The circular pavilion

On April 1, 2022 the 35th World Expo, held in Dubai, closed its doors. A conscious decision was made to use as many reusable, recyclable and compostable materials as possible. Nothing is left behind after the pavilion dismantling. Only the desert sand that was already there when the plot was received in 2018.

Pavilion’s main structure will be used for future projects in the UAE

Seen from the temporary character of a World Exhibition and the brief for a sustainable pavilion with a minimal footprint, the Netherlands pavilion was designed and built according to circular principles. A conscious decision was made to use as many reusable, recyclable and compostable materials as possible.

A radical building method

For the construction of the pavilion, a radical building method was applied by leasing sheet piles and tubes from Meever & Meever; a Dutch company specialised in civil structures, active in the UAE. They would normally use the materials for harbour basins and foundation pits. In this case, the pavilion’s walls are created with the steel sheet piling and the steel tubes are used to make the roof. The concept of using these materials visibly as the main structure of the pavilion, is in fact also an ode to the Netherlands civil engineering expertise.

Smart engineering to ensure quality

In the technical design and engineering of the sheet piles and steel tubes structure, the dismantling of the pavilion was already taken into account. Perforating the sheet piles, for example, was minimized and the architects always tried to maximize the lengths to ensure the same quality after the dismantling. Also, the connection of the tubes to the sheet piles is bolted in such a way that after the disconnection both parts remain intact and can be used directly in other projects.

Since Expo 2020 Dubai closed its doors and the pavilion will be dismantled, the sheet piles and tubes will be taken back by Meever & Meever to be used in future construction projects in the UAE.

Mushroom nursery

An important part of the pavilion’s biotope are the oyster mushrooms on the inside of the vertical farm. The healthy CO2 they produce supported the growth of the plants on the outside of the vertical farm.

In the white silos in the business lounge, a real mushroom nursery had been set up, to make mycelium and to pre-grow the oyster mushrooms. A simple but delicate system was devised by Peter Oei of SIGN, using as little water and energy as possible, compared to other methods. Straw pellets are treated with hot water in a mixer, cooled, then spawned and placed in special bags for a 3-week growth of the mycelium. After that, the mushrooms start to grow. During Expo, hundreds of kilos of oyster mushrooms were produced using this system.

The story continues Starting in April 2022, local entrepreneur Dima Al Srouri will take over the mushroom nursery with a spin-off of her company Biospheric City Lab. Biospheric City Lab is a boutique consultancy that provides sustainable development strategies and solutions with a focus on cities and the built environment. Biospheric examines the city as an ecosystem and offers a unique perspective to create regenerative and resilient cities and developments.

Dima has been exploring sustainable urban food systems and circular economy models and was inspired by the circularity of the Netherlands Pavilion and how mushrooms showcase a circular economy model, as they grow on organic side/waste streams from agriculture and provide valuable protein. She sees mycelium technology as an example of biomimicry which upcycles waste and she wants to educate people regarding sustainable food systems in cities.

In addition, she will research the use of locally available materials to grow mycelium. She is also looking into future collaboration with other local parties to apply mycelium as building material. Known for its acoustic properties and versatility in form and application, mycelium offers an interesting alternative to current finishing materials in the construction industry. Unlike building materials from fossil sources, biobased building materials actually store carbon dioxide and take much less energy to produce and, after its use, mycelium is compostable.

At her production space, mycelium panels from the Netherlands pavilion will be displayed to the public, allowing people to see, feel and learn all about these building materials of the future.

The Netherlands Pavilion Fragrance

As part of the sensory experience of the Netherlands pavilion, our refined sense-organ, the nose, was not to be missed. A scent is a very good starting point to activate your imagination and the connection you have with your environment.

Artist Birthe Leemeijer designed a special fragrance to capture the oldest Dutch polder called Mastenbroek in the North of The Netherlands. L‘Essence de Mastenbroek is a layered fragrance and contains extracts of clouds, water, cattle, grass and earth.

For the Netherlands pavilion, the source of ‘Mastenbroek’ is connected with Dubai and the pavilion through a delicate glass tube installation that guided the fragrance to drippers, allowing the visitors to catch a drop.

It is a physical presentation of the idea to bring a place to the other side of the world and still feel connected with it. Hundreds of thousands of visitors experienced the scent of The Netherlands and at the same time they created their own memories and imagination whist smelling the scent. L‘Essence de Mastenbroek contributes to a lasting memory of the Netherlands and the Netherlands participation, creating a connection between two totally different places.

Currently, the possibility of repurposing the installation in the UAE is being looked at.

Making it rain in the desert with the Sunglacier

During the six months of Expo, over 150.000 litres water was harvested through the Sunglacier, designed by Ap Verheggen.

Being inspired by nature and the ambition to contribute to finding a solution for the rapid climate change, Ap’s emphasis has always been to extract as much as possible water from outside air, as efficiently as possible. After years of prototyping, a new method of condensation was born.

An autonomously running ‘glacier’, powered by renewable energy that produces water out of air. The technique is simple but efficient: cold water is used to extract water vapour from the air. Hot air comes into a closed room, where cold water is being circulated. And, as hot air rises it attaches to the waterdrops on the ceiling, allowing them to grow and multiply.

For the Netherlands pavilion, the Sunglacier was designed to fit into a 20-foot shipping container. On a good day, it produced over 1.200 litres water. The water was used for a spectacular rain shower inside the cone and to irrigate a variety of plants. The outgoing cold air helped to cool the pavilion.

Since Expo is over, the watermaker will be shipped to the Netherlands. There, the technology will be even further optimized for a new project to create water out of the air. Meanwhile, talks are underway with Dubai Future Foundation to explore the implementation of the technology in the Arab regions.

The Floor

Functional, temporary, locally available and easy to reuse. Those were the starting points for the floor of the Netherlands pavilion, that had to be circular. Local sand and gravel from the desert were used together with rented prefabricated pavement mats to create a temporary stable floor.

The synthetic mats are lightweight and made from fully recyclable material. With a clever 3d shape and interlocking system the tiles can be joined together to hold the gravel firmly in place for a stable walkable floor. Just by lifting and unlocking these elements, the floor can be dismantled in a simple way, leaving all elements intact for future use.

Besides their use as a temporary floor as for the Netherlands pavilion, the mats can also function as sustainable ground stabilizers of a parking lot or an event site. The mats can be applied to make sure the allocated area stays usable under any weather condition and heavy usage by cars, people or for example horses, without making tracks and water pools.

The mats will be returned to their supplier and will be used for new temporary pavements in Dubai city. The gravel can be sifted and re-used and the sand can stay in the pit of the plot itself.

The Silos

During Expo 2020 Dubai, the specially designed white silos at the VIP lounge of the Netherlands pavilion fulfilled multiple functions. As the VIP lounge used to be the location where business meetings took place and where presentations, lectures and meetings were held, it had to be furnished and equipped for that purpose. The solution was found in a silo: a circular shape for an optimal number of guests and with moveable parts. This allowed the space to be made completely open, completely closed, partially closed or completely closed, depending on the degree of privacy required.

Because the VIP lounge was an integral part of the nexus, the silos also contained the nursery where the mushrooms were pre-grown. The undersides (or ceilings) of the hanging silos related to the visitor experience in the main hall and the food cone. By lighting the ceilings, that were made of stretched textiles, and using them as projection screens, they associated with the visitor experience on the umbrellas in the food cone. And that assured the VIP lounge to become an extension of the “Raining Stories”.

In a space where several people are together, good acoustics cannot be missed. The silos took care of that too. The double height of the VIP lounge in combination with the round silos and their textile ceiling provided sound absorption and pleasant acoustics.

The silos were designed to serve different purposes. In addition, the use of circular materials was also important in order to align with the overall concept of the pavilion. The choice for locally available standard tubes was made and they were technically designed in such a way that they remained intact and could be easily dismantled. In the coming months the pipes and backing structure are given back to the local building industry to be reused and recycled again.


The Netherlands pavilion used various innovative biobased finishing materials. These materials offer a sustainable alternative for the often polluting and non-recyclable materials that are currently used in various industries. The 22-metre wide and 14-metre long curtain that elegantly enveloped the business lounge area of the Netherlands pavilion, is such an alternative.

Devised by Amsterdam-based Buro Belén, the curtain is made from corn starch that was turned into biopolymer textile fibers. This renewable source of bio materials for textiles is a sustainable substitute for synthetic textiles. Besides being sustainable, this bio-textile is part of research that aims to create a textile that splits UV rays to block the harmful rays while still letting through enough sun for the body to produce vitamin D.

The curtain with a total of 588 m2 features laser cut images of mangroves, oleanders, date palms and moringa – Dubai’s indigenous vegetation. Colored with the oxides from steel of the pavilion, the curtain is a true piece of art.

Plans are being executed to exhibit and reuse the curtain in Dubai. Just like the mushroom nursery inside the pavilion, the curtain will also find its new home in a Dubai-based mushroom production farm.

Mycelium panels

The Netherlands pavilion used another innovative biobased finishing material, mycelium. Mycelium is a substance based on fungi that forms the breeding ground for mushrooms to grow. Combined with straw or cotton, for example, it can be made into a sturdy, lightweight panel with excellent acoustic properties. Interestingly, mycelium substrates take the shape of the mold in which it grows. That makes it possible to create specific shapes.

Two types of mycelium panels were applied for the pavilion. The panels inside the vertical farm and the custom made acoustic panels, placed on the back wall of the business lounge area. Italy-based company Mogu provided a total of 1600 panels. 

Since mycelium panels are fully biodegradable, the panels that were made for the lifespan of Expo 2020 Dubai are pulverized and turned into compost to be completely returned to nature.

The specially designed acoustic wall panels with the Dutch Dubai logo are displayed at the Consulate General of the Netherlands in Dubai. Guests of the consulate can experience the true legacy of the circular concept of the Dutch pavilion and its innovative solutions.

In addition, a selection of the acoustic panels is donated to local parties in the UAE, allowing people to see, feel and learn all about these building materials of the future. Eventually, after their second life, the panels can still be turned into compost to complete the circle and to start a new one.

Solar panels

On the roof of the Netherlands pavilion, two types of PV panels were installed to provide the pavilion with renewable energy. The first group consists of standard PV panels which have been rented locally and will be installed elsewhere.

The second group are the colorful organic and transparent panels designed by Marjan van Aubel Studio, in collaboration with V8 Architects. The panels collected energy from Dubai’s sun rays to power parts of  the pavilion. At the same time they allowed sunlight into the pavilion and filter the right spectrum of light which the edible plants on the food cone used for photosynthesis.

The graphic design of the panels is made with a colored Moiré effect; the lines and patterns are interacting with each other creating ever changing light reflections and shadows in the pavilion. The colored OPV, a third-generation solar technology, is printed on PET that is produced in a circular manner and is 100% recyclable. They are lightweight, which makes them easily transportable.

The detailing of the skylights was done in such a way that the PV panels could be easily dismounted from the glass for future use.  Instead of just seeing solar as a technology, the design and its integration in the Netherlands pavilion show that creating energy can also be beautiful and  add aesthetic value.

The design was rewarded with the ARC21 Innovation Award. According to the jury, the power of the design is that it transforms the future. Every surface full of solar panels no longer becomes an anxious necessity in an arduous energy transition, but a pleasure to look forward to.

Currently, the studio is exploring the possibilities for a new application of the organic solar panels that were used on the skylights of the Netherlands pavilion.