Project Specifications

  • Project Name: Terra- The Sustainability Pavilion
  • Project Architect: Grimshaw Architects
  • Project Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Project Year: 2020
  • Head Architect: Sir Nicholas Grimshaw
  • Client: Dubai World Expo- 2020

Sustainability Pavilion- Terra is a design proposal for the Universal Exhibition in Dubai held in 2020. This nature-inspired pavilion is a product of the creative vision of the Grimshaw Architects Designs. The design of this Dubai Expo 2020 sustainability pavilion demands a call of action for the impact on the environment by human activities through its sensitive design.

Sustainability, Mobility, and Opportunity being the main themes of Dubai Expo, Terra is set to become a major highlight that throws light on the serious implications of the sustainability issues, imparts knowledge, and explores various ideas, while at the same time, provides a unique spatial experience for the users.

Grimshaw Architects Designs, dubai expo 2020 sustainability pavilion

The design is inspired by the natural phenomenon occurring in the environment like photosynthesis, with a structure designed to capture sunlight and for water harvesting. The canopy roof spreads over 130 meters and the top of it is cladded with photovoltaic panels. Around this pavilion, 18 Energy Trees capture sunlight and provide shade for the visitors. 

A major portion of the 6.3 sq.m pavilion space is situated below the ground level which benefits from the insulation effect offered by the earth. Designed in a funnel shape, the structure enhances natural ventilation and welcomes natural light to the interiors.

The water management system in the structure is planned in a way to collect condensation which further foes through the filtration and disinfection processes. It is then merged with desalinated harvested water and made usable as potable water. Water’s volume is in direct proportion with the temperature and number of users.

The site surrounding the pavilion showcases new crops being adapted for dry and arid climates. Landscaped by a local architecture studio Desert INK, the design aims to inspire development in a food production system that is particular to that area and climate.

Apart from displaying the concepts of sustainability, this pavilion also serves the visitors with an experience that draws an intimate relationship with nature and strikes a dialogue revolving around the impact modern-day living and societies have on the environment. The interactive design and installation of the pavilion dive into the key principles of sustainability and the issues.

An aerial view Grimshaw Architects Designs, dubai

The design team envisioned this pavilion beyond the expo- after being there as the sustainability pavilion for the expo, it will be converted into a knowledgeable Science Center which will be operated autonomously with natural energy harvesting and water supply.

“Sited in a prominent location, the Pavilion structure works in tandem with the considered landscape of demonstration gardens, winding pathways, and shaded enclaves to create an aura of magic punctuated by the sights, smells, and tactile opportunities of nature” – said the team at Grimshaw Architects.

Grimshaw Architects Designs

According to the architects, the singular aspect of a design cannot drive the solutions for building a structure that harvests its own energy and water in such a problematic and harsh climate. Achieving a net zero building doesn’t come easy as it requires a set of technological aids, careful building systems planning, and design solutions to work together. 

The micro-ecosystem of Terra is a result of the amalgamation of various strategies that involved advancing the natural site conditions, working with the set existing constraints for maximum efficiency, and injecting these conditions with sustainability principles to offer innovative and creative solutions. 

top view of Grimshaw Architects Designs

The surfaces above ground are cladded with rain-screen walls that were sourced from the vernacular stone of Hajar mountains. It provides a great thermal pass to take and absorb the heat energy while the natural colour and appearance of the stone reflect harsh sunlight. 

The landscaping in the pavilion is not alien to the space as it is sourced from the neighbouring deserts with some of the new species arranged on roofs and gardens. The design offers water-efficient landscaping that operates with a closed-loop cycle of filtering, supplying, and recycling the water. 

The topographical features, enhanced with local plant species and aligned with technology for water reusing and recycling, ignites a sense of appreciation in users’ minds for the unique regional biodiversity. It also serves productive areas for agriculture with halophytic and other new innovative agricultural practices. 

The Pavilion’s vast courtyard accommodates the concluded building systems in the centre of the structure. The courtyard borrows elements from the locality and authenticity of the region, providing a huge space for guests which incorporates a passive cooling system.

The courtyard was designed based on the prevalent airflow. The form allows an ideal cold South-West breeze to flow through the space while preventing warmer breezes. 

The pattern of photovoltaic cells and glass on the canopy of the pavilion allows efficient solar energy harnessing and at the same time allows shade and natural light for the users below. The courtyard offers an experience of standing under a large tree with cool shade and staggered lighting on the surfaces below. 

The canopy also functions as an area for the collection of dew and stormwater which fills up the water system in the building. The result of this advanced architectural vision and technology-oriented design language is a structure capturing most of the solar energy. Designed with an understanding of the local language and natural site conditions, the structure actively produces energy, cools the space, and enhances the user experience.

E-Tree: The Energy Trees

Grimshaw Architects Designs Energy Trees

The sustainability pavilion is aided and complemented with Energy Trees that have a significant contribution to the goal of generating energy. These structures ranging from a diameter of 15m to 18m are spread throughout the site and contribute 28% of the energy required for the operation of the building. The structure composed of steel and other composites is a free-standing structure supporting an 18m photovoltaic array of cells and offers shade on the ground level. Drawing inspiration from the natural processes, the structure is capable of rotating 180 degrees to capture most of the sunlight. 

These unique panels with monocrystalline solar cells are implanted within the triple-layered glass which offers shade without blocking the view to the clear skies.

A couple of men walking down a pathway under e-tree of Grimshaw Architects,

These trees form an integral portion of the expo and pavilion site as it demonstrates and imparts knowledge to the visitors on solar energy harvesting and technology associated with these panels. Along with the goal to serve the community, it also aids to achieve the net zero goal of the pavilion structure. 

Grimshaw Architects Designs and concept


The pavilion, through an extraordinary architectural language, aims to explore various energy efficient and architectural possibilities that may pave a path towards sustainable living. The incorporation of natural processes, local materials, and careful consideration of the site conditions mark the success of the pavilion to achieve the desired efficiency levels.

It delivers a crucial message through the means of architecture about the state of the natural world and how contemporary societies are exploiting the environment. Targeted to a global audience, Grimshaw Architects design for Dubai Expo 2020 Sustainability Pavilion provides visitors with a holistic experience that may be marked as informative and exciting.

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