Courtesy of Pragma
We created the guest experience and narrative for the UAE pavilion at the Floriade 2022 international horticultural exhibition.
With the theme Growing Green Cities, Floriade invited participating nations and organizations to reflect on nature and urbanism and the growing imperative to make our environments more liveable and sustainable. Our research was guided by the question of what “greening” means in the highly arid and saline desert environment of the UAE, where greening in the traditional sense is unsustainable.
The pavilion’s story focuses on the halophytic (salt-loving) plants that thrive in the UAE’s challenging environment, and on the ways humans can work with them in order to support life across the ecosystem. The UAE is in many ways a lab for the future, as the solutions developed there to address its difficult conditions hold promise to address the challenges other countries will soon face, from rising temperatures to increasingly saline soil.
We created a holistic guest experience focusing on four key plants of the UAE’s coastline and the people working with them in order to solve the challenges we must face as a global community. The building and landscape were created by Dubai architecture studio Pragma, under Tellart’s narrative and creative direction.
Featuring live plants, sculptures, and immersive installations, our design challenges stereotypes about the UAE and perceptions of what sustainability and greening look like. In the garden and the pavilion, guests get to know the extraordinary plants of the UAE and the clues they hold to our future.
Guests first enter the Saltwater Garden, and are introduced to the unique biodiversity of the UAE’s coastal environment that includes extraordinary plants such as mangroves and salicornia. The garden embodies the ethos of working intelligently with nature and is layered with traditional wisdom and modern scientific knowledge. The elements of the garden work together to form a closed-loop biosaline agriculture system which cycles seawater, salt brine, and waste to produce edible crops, fish, and drinking water. By embracing salt-loving plants, we can grow food while protecting the environment that sustains us. Through the confluence of natural processes and human ingenuity, this system forms an elegant machine that enables Emiratis to thrive even under difficult conditions.
As they enter the pavilion, guests are introduced to the ecotone, a space of thriving biodiversity at the intersection of two ecosystems. A wall relief introduces the unique geography of the Emirates, shifting typical perceptions from the UAE as a desert country to focus on the vast coastline that hosts most of the UAE’s key cities.
Inside the pavilion, guests get to know the four plant protagonists that play key roles in the UAE coastal ecosystem. We worked with Van Tetterode glass studio to create glass sculptures that celebrate salicornia, mangroves, microalgae, and seagrass as delicate and precious treasures. Alongside these remarkable plants, we introduce the people in the UAE who are researching, protecting, and finding new ways to work with these plants for the benefit of humanity and nature.
After learning about the four key plants of the ecotone, guests now connect with them emotionally in the final room of the pavilion. In a large immersive space, guests find themselves on the sea floor surrounded by swaying seagrass projected onto three walls around them. Through a lush soundscape and a bespoke scent developed in collaboration with MANE scent designers, guests are transported to this green and thriving environment. As they move closer, the seagrass moves with them, as if swaying with the gentle currents created by the guests, releasing oxygen bubbles and stirring schools of colorful fish. We worked with Marshmallow Laser Feast to create this room-scale installation as an environment where guests viscerally feel the connection between humans and plants and can conclude their visit feeling joy and awe.
To inform the narrative, form, and message of our multisensory garden and gallery, we held in-depth conversations with scientists, entrepreneurs and government leaders from across the UAE whose expertise spans from Emirati heritage and national food security to experimental agtech and marine biology. By placing their combined knowledge at the center of the experience, we have shaped a story that originates in the UAE and resonates with the world.
"We are honoured to join Floriade Expo 2022 and share the UAE's sustainability journey. Salt Water Cities: where land meets sea, demonstrates how the UAE has adapted to our desert environment and arid climate and how our commitment to conserving biodiversity and championing food and water security is driving socio-economic development through a sustainable lens. Our ancestors and founding fathers addressed the limitations posed by our desert environment through a responsible use of natural resources - this resilience continues today as we work to strengthen our food security for the current and next generations."
Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, Minister of Climate Change and the Environment
Lead Guest Experience Design - Tellart
Architecture - Pragma
Immersive Experience - Marshmallow Laser Feast
Photography - Mohamed Somji
Glass Sculptures - Van Tetterode Glass Studio
Brand Guidelines - Tinkah
Wayfinding - Endpoint
Lead Engineer - Arcadis
Construction -K_Dekker bouw & infra
Fabrication - Fiction Factory
AV Hardware - Neumann & Müller
Vinyl stickering - Watjeziet
Photography - Matthew Watt