The Great Exhibition in London’s Hyde Park in 1851 was established as celebration of modern industrial technology and design, with the motivation for Britain to make ‘clear to the world its role as industrial leader’. Constructed to house the exhibition and showcase futuristic innovation was the iconic Crystal Palace, an adventurous piece of architectural mastery.

Fast-forward to 2020 and the Victorians’ purpose of ‘exhibition of competition and encouragement’ remains just as strong as the construction world continuously innovates the art of the possible.

With the theme ‘connecting minds, creating the future’, Dubai Expo 2020 will mark the first World Expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asian (MEASA) Region. Covering a total area of 4.38km2, the zone currently known as Dubai South will be transformed into a world stage for the future of smart cities. A 65m high, 150m dome called Al Wasl Plaza will become the centrepiece of Expo, connecting three themed areas, focussed on connectivity, sustainability and mobility. 6 million visitors attended the first world exhibition event in 1851, and next year the Dubai authorities expect 25 million to walk through the doors to view their vision of the future city. 

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Whilst the UAE will make sure Expo 2020 will be a world-class event like no other, the legacy Dubai Expo 2020 will leave behind is crucial to ensuring that the UAE continues to pioneer innovation in the built environment, and 80% of exhibition space land is planned for re-use.

Enter District 2020, a futuristic mixed-use smart city within a city covering 3,000,000m2. With community wellbeing and interaction a focus of the development, 45,000m2 will be dedicated to parks and green space and 10km of bike tracks and 5km of jogging tracks will be incorporated.

Home to a population of 90,000 and offering 500,000 jobs, District 2020 will provide international investors 200,000m2 of commercial and residential space, and potential for 3,000 hotel keys. The city will be 5G connected and buildings are being developed to LEED Gold and Platinum standards. A contribution to GDP from the legacy of Expo of up to AED62.2bn is expected in the ten years following the Expo event.

Positioned next to Dubai’s second airport - Al Maktoum International, set to become the largest airport in the world, and within 15 minutes from the Jebel Ali Port, District 2020 has particular potential to strengthen Dubai’s market position in the infrastructure and logistics sectors, acting as a major trade gateway between East and West.

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Smart cities reaching new heights in the UAE

One of the main aims of District 2020 is to bring to life the government’s ‘Smart Dubai’ initiative, maximising its already strong position as a world leading centre for technological innovation. The government has also incentivised the business world to think smart. A programme named Dubai 10X now requires every government entity to establish and resource an independent business unit tasked with harnessing the power of disruptive technology to create new ways of thinking and doing business.

The mission for District 2020 is to create a mini ecosystem in the UAE, that in its physical structure organically encourages collaboration, bringing together start-ups, Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs and incubators spaces together. Siemens has already announced that District 2020 will become home to its new global logistics headquarters, and Accenture will be developing a digital hub there.

Harnessing the power of the Internet of Things will be at the heart of everything District 2020 stands for, with Expo as it’s launch platform. During the event, Siemens will be digitising the site, a model for how smart cities of the future could run.  Data from 137 buildings across the exhibition site will be collated through Internet of Things cloud-based operating system, MindSphere, allowing Siemens to track building performance and energy efficiency, as well as support site security.  

The evolution of smart applications, and their ability to help us live and work efficiently is well documented, and in the construction sector, virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence are being used to help navigate construction sites, visualise finished spaces and anticipate and mitigate risks. Dubai Expo, it’s piloting of the Internet of Things and the use of legacy land to create District 2020 are next step that the industry needs, joining the potential of the revolutionary innovations already available and bringing the smart city to life.

Jonathon Robinson

Jonathon Robinson
Director, UAE