One Year Later: AV Alliance at Expo 2020 Dubai

Expo 2020

This Saturday, October 1 will mark one year since the magnificent Expo 2020 opened its gates to the public, and started its 6-month tenure in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. On the same day its legacy site, the Expo City Dubai will fully reopen to the public, along with the main pavilions. Those who were fortunate to witness the Expo 2020’s magic in person will surely never forget it. In this two-part article we decided to look back – through the lens of our own fond memories – on some of the 192 country pavilions and many venues of the Expo 2020, and show you in more detail all the work that some of our AV Alliance members and sponsoring partners have put into creating something truly extraordinary.

There are few international events – if any – that boast the same level of state-of-the-art technology and innovation as a World Expo. Designed to showcase the achievements of all nations in the most spectacular fashion, the expo has featured some the world’s greatest inventions – such as the telephone (Philadelphia, 1876), the X-ray machine (Buffalo, 1901), the television (New York, 1939), IMAX (Osaka, 1970), touch screens (Knoxville, 1982), or the humanoid robot (Nagoya, 2005) – and iconic constructions such as the Eiffel Tower or the Ferris wheel since its inception in 1791 in Prague. 

Combine innovation and technology with the astonishing scale by which Dubai does everything, and you get the perfect location for the Expo 2020. Postponed by a year due to the outbreak of the pandemic, this world fair was the ultimate “platform for experiences, discovery, innovation, idea sharing and collaboration”. During its half-year tenure between October 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022 the Expo attracted 24.1 million visits by nationals of 178 countries.

It certainly dominated a large part of the event industry as well – especially from the aspect of manpower and equipment shipped to Dubai from all over the world – from the moment the construction and preparations could at last start in early 2021. True to its motto, “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future“, the Expo 2020 served as a huge boost of morale in a global post-pandemic landscape, bringing back the joy of mass gatherings (it is said to have been the greatest global gathering in history) of an enormous scale.

Of course, this posed its own, equally enormous challenges for the world fair’s organizers. While health regulations were quite manageable in Dubai by the time the Expo opened its gates on October 1 last year, the site itself applied strict rules to protect its visitors. The limitations due to social distancing and rigorous disinfection made the job of service providers who worked on the individual pavilions that much harder, as the original plans had been drawn way before the pandemic started and many safety factors had not been considered previously. Logistics – and the considerable delays in the supply chains – as well as workforce management have also proven to be challenging due to the after-effects of Covid, however the end result was an incredibly thought-out and smoothly executed operation that ran for 182 days straight without ever slowing down.

As AV Alliance we are beyond proud to have had some of our member companies and sponsoring partners play significant roles in bringing the Expo to life, providing their expertise, equipment, and technology, as well as countless of working hours and rigorous schedules over months of preparations – mostly in the unforgiving heat of the Dubai summer – to create something truly spellbinding. Having had our 2021 AV Alliance Get Together in Dubai, we had the chance to visit the Expo and have a special glimpse into the work they had done on a number of pavilions and venues, so we are excited to invite you to look back on some of these projects in this article. 

Let’s dive in, shall we? First up: the country pavilions.

Aotearoa: Care for People and Place

Aotearoa, the indigenous Māori people’s name for New Zealand, means “Country of the Long White Cloud”. Being one of the most environmentally conscious countries in the world, New Zealand’s protection of its natural resources and respect of its natural phenomena are that of religious principle, which helped conserve the country’s landscape and its world-renownedly rich and breathtaking ecosystem diversity almost in its original form over the ages.

The New Zealand Pavilion’s motto,”Care for People and Place” perfectly illustrated the country’s strong stance in environmental sustainability. The overall theme of the pavilion was based on the Māori concept “kaitiakitanga”, which means guardianship and protection of the environment. According to this concept, humans are inextricably one with nature, and it is each individual’s personal responsibility to take care of and protect the environment, so that it could take care of us in return.The pavilion also showcased New Zealand’s “waka taonga”, or “treasured possessions”, representing the country’s identity and values.

Located in the Sustainability District, the New Zealand Pavilion provided a series of soothing kinetic, interactive, and immersive experiences – including the River Room, which displayed an original Māori Stone, brought all the way from a sacred river in New Zealand to the Expo, and a stunning 360-degree projection in the Film Room – to visitors. Our Dubai-based member company Neumann&Müller Middle East supplied audio and video services.

Photo credit: Neumann&Müller Middle East, Andreas Keller Fotografie

One of the most impressive features of the Aotearoa pavilion was the digital “pulse” (combining movement with sound) that not only covered the whole façade of the building but it also traveled through the interior walls right into the River Room. Neumann&Müller Middle East was tasked with the implementation of the pulse effect, including the digital creation of the waves’ sequence, and an audio playback system for its sound.

The team committed to comprehensive and meticulous planning to interface all the technical elements in order to create one cohesive experience of the pulse effect that travels through the pavilion. A number of our high-end specialists worked around the clock to run simulations to achieve the perfect synchronization of the effect and the sound. 

Campus Germany

Also located in the heart of the Expo 2020’s Sustainability District, the Germany Pavilion was commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, and focused on the country’s long history of innovation and environmentalism, as well as Germany’s energy revolution (“Energiewende”), a global benchmark that was incorporated in the Campus Germany concept. With “edutainment” at the forefront, the pavilion featured a haptic, digital showcase of German innovations and solutions in the field of sustainability. 

From a ball pit filled with 100,000 balls that could each be scanned to tell a story, to hands-on playtime activities in the individual exhibition spaces and a – literally and emotionally – uplifting experience with swinging seats and a lesson on unity in the so-called Graduation Hall, the Germany Pavilion was a huge hit not just with visitors: the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) honored he German Pavilion with the highest award for its theme interpretation in the “XL Pavilion” category for its outstanding exhibition and the ideal combination of interior and architecture.*

Photo credit: sld mediatec GmbH, Expo 2020 Dubai

Not one, but two of our AV Alliance member companies worked tirelessly on Campus Germany: Qatar-based ES:ME Entertainment Services brought the latest rigging and kinetic turnkey solutions to the table, while our member in Nuremberg, sld mediatec GmbH provided all media technology and electrical engineering for the pavilion.

For sld mediatec, the actual preparation phase kicked off in late March in 2021, with 15 employees (and 13 freelancers) temporarily relocating to Dubai for this mammoth project. While the pandemic had originally ground the Expo to a halt in 2020, the extra time was used well not just from the preparation perspective, but also technology-wise: the significant evolution in media technologies and ideas for exhibitions in just one year’s time made it possible for the sld mediatec team to upgrade everything, matching Expo 2020 Dubai’s dedication to showcasing groundbreaking future technologies. In addition to Campus Germany, sld mediatec was also responsible for media technology and electrical engineering for the Monaco Pavilion.*

Kazakhstan: The Gateway to Tomorrow

The pavilion of Kazakhstan was every bit as unique and unusual as the country itself is: a combination of wild, wonderful nature, vast steppes, steep mountains, and the Caspian seaside, modern metropolitan cities and nomadic traditions, East and West meeting in this Central Asian culture. The main goal was to showcase and share the country’s nomadic spirit with the visitors of the Expo 2020, “creating a sense of belonging and connection”.

Nestled in the Opportunity District, the Kazakhstan Pavilion itself was divided into five main zones that took the visitor through the past to the present day of the Great Steppe and the lifestyle of nomads, the main theme of the exhibition. Each area was equipped with audio, video, and light installations, and provided unique experiences such as exploring the land and its natural resources through interactive walls and screens, learning about the “Richness of Biodiversity” through a vertical garden installation, witnessing Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan City in all its glory on an immersive LED screen, play various games and try AI in the “Future Now” exhibition, and enjoy a 270° virtual projection with a dance performance.

Photo credit: Neumann&Müller Middle East, Andreas Keller Fotografie

Our AV Alliance member Neumann&Müller Middle East was responsible for supplying complete audio, video, and lighting solutions for the Kazakhstan Pavilion. The scope of their work included design of light scenes and planning, and a huge demand of AV and lighting scope to deliver, requiring the increase of specialists, crew, and working hours to deliver the project on time. The implementation of the main show element with a massive robotic arm proved to be a tricky task, as it had to create the illusion of an AR interaction between the arm itself and the artist, and so was to pre-program the movements of the dancer and lights to create a perfectly synchronized show that was ultimately screened with a curved 270° projection.

The Kazakhstan Pavilion, which was one of the most stunning buildings of the Expo 2020, received recognition as second best pavilion in theme interpretation at the Expo 2020 Dubai Official Participant Awards. We are proud to have our AV Alliance Member Neumann&Müller Middle East contribute to the highly praised project!

Japan: Bringing Together Technology, People and Ideas

Japan is a land full of contrasts: rooted deeply in tradition and history, the oldest (over 2681 year-old) continuous hereditary monarchy that is, at the same time, the birthplace of rapid technological progress, scientific and medical discoveries, and many forms of popular culture. On its islands strikingly ultra-modern urban landscapes meet historical palaces, temples, and monuments, perfectly coexisting with each other and with nature. While one would have the impression that urbanization has come at a high price for the “land of the rising sun”, Japan has made great efforts to keep its natural treasures intact, and places great emphasis on encouraging Japanese people to let nature and each other be an important source of inspiration and ideas.

Located in the Opportunity District, the Japan Pavilion aimed to pay tribute to its way of coexistence by combining these three main areas in its concept: people, technology, and ideas. To this end, the stunning exhibitions within the Japan Pavilion guided guests through the country’s past right into the future, showcasing various examples of Japanese landscapes, nature, culture, etc. through hanging and layer screens, floor projections, and voice AR as well as different special effects, such as mist. 

Photo credit: Neumann&Müller Middle East, Andreas Keller Fotografie, Expo 2020 Dubai

Another area presented miniature art by popular Japanese artist Tatsuya Tanaka, depicting four concepts: City, Earth, Sea and the Universe. The exhibition also featured illustrations projected onto a transparent screen with special light effects, a 360° screen, a sphere, and artificial mist creating an immersive experience, as well as a zone dedicated specifically to the upcoming Expo 2025 taking place in Osaka, Japan.

Once again, the Japan Pavilion’s audio, video, and lighting was supplied by our local member Neumann&Müller Middle East. For the team the biggest technical challenge proved to be projecting visual content on a huge spherical screen. It was not just the size of the sphere but also the shape – the curved surface – but also the environmental factors such as air conditioning, heat, moisture, etc. To combat this challenge, the team’s designers and engineers ran countless simulation tests to make sure the projection worked perfectly. 

Aqua Roots of Hungary

The concept behind the Hungary Pavilion was centered around the country’s unique national treasure: water. For a small nation known for its rich history and role in shaping European culture, as well as its nomadic roots from over a thousand years ago, its scientific achievements, gorgeous architecture, and distinctive cuisine, it may be surprising that their most prominent claim to touristic fame lies in thermal water. Located in the Mobility District, the Hungary Pavilion was designed (by Designland) to teach visitors about the “long journey of thermal water, measured in millions of years through interactive installations, state-of-the-art AV technology, and stunning visual imagery. 

One of the key themes of the exhibition was “water without water”. It meant introducing the different aspects – recreation, therapy, social significance etc. – of bath culture and Hungary’s natural resources and attractions in a way that appealed to all generations, evoking emotions and soothing the senses – without actually using water.

Photo credit: Akos Kaiser, Kraftwerk Design and Production LLCExpo 2020 Dubai

Dubai-based production company Kraftwerk Design and Production LLC was responsible for the production, integration, and operation of the Hungary Pavilion, along with its co-owner and Budapest-based AV Alliance member Special Effects Ltd. During the development, production, and installation of the exhibition, one of the most technically challenging elements for the team to create in the various zones within the Hungary Pavilion were the hanging minerals in the mineral tower (made of real sludge, then painstakingly molded and recreated with epoxy resin), and the showcase of Lake Hévíz. 

Lake Hévíz is Europe’s largest natural thermal lake and also one of Hungary’s natural wonders. It is located near Lake Balaton and is a popular therapeutic and recreational destination for Hungarians and foreigners alike. Its surface is covered with water lilies, which sparked the idea to mechanically  recreate these flowers (made out of stone paper) with micro-motors, which made them open and close approximately 850,000 times throughout the six months of the Expo 2020.

There have been a number of pavilions at the Expo 2020 that specifically stood out from the rest, be it for outstanding design elements or unusual architecture (its timber-framed structure was unique in the entire Persian Gulf region), and the Hungary Pavilion was definitely among them. It attracted over 1 million visitors during the Expo 2020, making it one of the most visited national pavilions, and also one of the most “Instagrammed”. In addition, the Hungary Pavilion won the Silver Award for the best exhibition in the mid-sized pavilions category.

Resourceful Luxembourg

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a tiny country nestled between France, Germany, and Belgium with a population a little over 630,000. With a thousand years of history and traditions, Luxembourg has become the second wealthiest country in the world by being a financial and economic powerhouse, with a special emphasis on pioneering in digital technologies, R&D, and the space industry. 

The concept of the Luxembourg Pavilion, located in the Opportunity District of the Expo 2020, reflected the country’s main characteristic perfectly: resourcefulness took center stage in the pavilion’s design in the shape of state-of-the-art integrated technology, interactive installations, and much more. The aim was to represent Luxembourg’s prowess in innovation when it comes to sustainability, connectivity, and diversity, and its strong advocacy for these causes, as well as for environmental conservation.

The pavilion featured a spiral ramp, where the 3D wall was fitted with video and photo installations, interactive screens, as well as projections; an introduction to Luxembourg’s history played out on a 180° curved screen; and a venture into the natural landscapes of the country through plants and trees, numerous interactive installations, and a spiral slide that lead outside the pavilion. 

Photo credit: Neumann&Müller Middle East, Andreas Keller Fotografie, Amir Maljai for Luxembourg Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

Beside supplying audio, video, and lighting technology for the Luxembourg Pavilion, for AV Alliance member Neumann&Müller Middle East one of the main challenges proved to be the installation of the 70 individual monitor systems into a wall full of 3D-printed modular hands on the spatial scenography ramp, which was called the “Diverse” section in the first zone of the exhibition. 

In addition, mounting 13 wide-angle projectors in the “Connecting” segment of the ramp behind the 3D wall structure also posed a technical challenge, due to the extremely tight space in which the crew needed to install the projectors in. Neumann&Müller created a versatile mounting system with rotatable axis for each of the projectors, which allowed for mapping the video content at such a short distance between the equipment and each screen.

Finally, to level the sound in the pavilion and achieve the best possible quality audio experience, Neumann&Müller’s sound engineers installed an internal, 64-channel QSYS audio playback system across the entire building. This system had one single audio player for each speaker, which created a controlled and complex audio experience for the Luxembourg Pavilion.

In addition to the above examples, Neumann&Müller Middle East also supplied audio and video (and in some cases lighting) technology for the Brazil Pavilion, the Belarus Pavilion, and the Baden-Württemberg Pavilion. You may find further information on these projects here.

We hope that you enjoyed our nostalgic look back on all of the country pavilions that our AV Alliance members worked on for so long!

If you have been inspired by the technology that were showcased at the Expo 2020 Dubai, we invite you to get in touch with us and find out what our AV Alliance members can do for you and your event!