Bringing to Life a Nation’s Values and Future Ambitions

Designing the Host Pavilion’s Guest Experience for Expo Dubai 2020

We designed the guest experience for the United Arab Emirates’ Host Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, crafting a multi-sensory guest experience celebrating the country’s past, present and future, in partnership with experience architects Kossmanndejong. 

We wanted to bring to life the rich nuances of Emirati culture and values, by taking visitors on a journey through different chapters of the nation’s story, within one of World Expo’s architectural highlights, Santiago Calatrava’s ambitious falcon-inspired building. 

Guided by deep research and advice on cultural and intangible heritage from UAE storytellers, cultural experts, authorities and ministries, we looked beyond the region’s famed desert landscapes for inspiration to create an intimate experience that not only embodies the heart of a nation, but makes it relatable to the rest of the world.


We collaborated with 44 local and international artists and designers, including local photographers Mohammed Somji, Ammar Al Attar and Mahra Almehairi and composer Matthew Herbert who created the evocative soundscape heard throughout the building.  Together, these talents contributed to a multi-layered, holistic journey that created fresh insight into Emirati identity.  Highlights include:

TW UAE Majlis lady LR


The Oasis was developed in response to the wish from our clients for our guests to avoid long queues, and to be in a space that was for gathering, rest, and enjoyment. Sheltered under the wings of the building, the Oasis extends a traditional, yet modern Emirati welcome to guests while they wait to enter the Pavilion. Here, surrounded by nature, birdsong soundscapes and places to sit, guests are immersed in Emirati values and traditions.

Guests follow the Falaj, inspired by a traditional water irrigation system, to the entrance. Inside, guests face each other across the waist-high water, and share a moment of playful interaction with friends and strangers, setting a communal intent that continues through the guest journey. 

Desert of Dreams

The UAE is a young nation, founded just 50 years ago. Its culture springs from generations who learned to thrive together in the harshest of landscapes. The Desert of Dreams presents a multisensory journey through this transformation to the present. To transcend language barriers, we communicated this story through powerful visual metaphors. 

Unity, an immersive experience at the heart of Desert of Dreams, represents a pivotal moment in the story of the UAE, when seven Emirates came together in a shared drive towards collective progress.  As guests step into the circle, the space responds to their movements. Where they step, colourful threads form, and as more people join the circle, their trails weave together with their movement, creating a unifying, swirling vortex of colour set against the sand dunes. Unity affirms the idea that when people come together, beautiful things happen.    

Using scenography, lighting, interactive projections, spatialised sound, scent and the deliberate juxtaposition of sand and glass, the guest experience design takes visitors from traditional life to the thriving modern nation we know today. 

Dreaming Together

In the very heart of the building guests experienced an animated short film which illustrates how a people came together to transform a desert into a flourishing nation that holds onto its roots while reaching for Mars. We used accurate historical events with hopeful scenes of what life could look like in the future. We worked closely with an all-female team of Emirati archivists, intangible heritage historians, a poet, musicians and singers. The animation directors were Smith and Foulkes who masterfully told this story through three generations of women. The composer was Mathew Herbert who brought together the soundscape heard throughout the guest journey in the pavilion to its full culmination.

The 7 minute experience immersed guests in a 300-degree dome theater with a bespoke 24m wide-angle projection. It included rising seats and spatialised audio that provided an intimate and surprising multi-sensory treat.

Dreamers Who Do

In the monumental exit level of Calatrava’s innovative building, the guest experience focused on highlighting the homegrown emerging talents of the UAE. It gave a platform to showcase the innovations in arts, science and technology fields which position this country as a pioneer in contributing to solving global problems.

 “Thanks to the outstanding efforts of the teams involved, all the right elements have been put together to make touring the Pavilion an exceptional multisensory experience that is hard to forget."

HE Noura bint Mohammad Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth. 

Project Data


  • Expo 2020 Dubai welcomed 24,102,967 guests from around the world in six months.
  • The Pavilion experience was housed within a three-story structure totaling 15,064 sqm
  • 44 local and international artists contributed to the experience including local photographers Mohamed Somji, Ammar Al Attar and Mahra Almehairi and British composer Matthew Herbert
  • Herbert composed multiple bespoke musical pieces that were played throughout the guest experience
  • Two bespoke scents were created by Tellart and the international fragrance company Mane. 
  • The Calatrava designed Pavilion building will continue to be used, as the site transitions into Expo City, an ecosystem used to connect, create and innovate. 


  • Exhibitor Magazine Award
  • Best Exterior Design – Winner
  • Exhibitor Magazine Award
  • Best XL Pavilion – Honorable Mention

Selected Press:


  • Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation
  • Ministry of Culture and Youth
  • Calatrava (ES) - Architecture 
  • Tellart + Kossmanndejong (NL) - Guest experience design & creative guardianship 
  • Lest We Forget (UAE) - Archival research 
  • Waho (UAE) - Landscape design 
  • Nexus Studios (UK)-  Smith & Foulkes - 2D animation,  Factory Fifteen - 3D animation 
  • Onion lab (ES) - Installation 
  • YesYesNo (VS) - Interactive installation 
  • Field (DE) - CG artworks 
  • Boomtown (UAE), Ted Beagles - Director
  • Serena (ES) - Post production 
  • Matthew Herbert (UK) - Musical composition & soundscapes 
  • Resonate (SA) - Sound design and integration
  • Mohammed Somji (UAE) - Photography
  • Ammar Al Attar (UAE) - Photography, film 
  • Mahra Almehairi (UAE) - Photography, film 
  • Obaid AlBudoor (UAE) - Photography 
  • Tinkah (UAE) - Graphic Design consultant 
  • Mövement Strategy (UK) - Visitor flow analysis 
  • HeinzLoopstra (NL) - Lighting design interior 
  • Sisi (NL) - Lighting design exterior
  • Images: Thijs Wolzak

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