Strategies for sustainable living

The dynamic form of the Sustainability Pavilion at Expo Dubai, designed by Grimshaw Architects, has a prolific relationship with the place and its physic and environmental contexts in that it demonstrates a new way of living sustainably in a particularly hostile, desert environment. Taking inspiration from natural processes such as photosynthesis, the high performance of the Sustainability Pavilion lies in its ability of acquiring energy from solar light and fresh water from air humidity. In order to meet these requirements, the project has exploited a number of extremely innovative technologies, building systems and formal solutions.

The comfort witnessed by the visitor at the Expo is obtained thanks to a useful expenditure of the underground. The Pavilion exploits the insulation properties of the soil, which helps protect the surface from the high temperatures, which can reach 50 degrees Celsius during the warmer months. The vast majority of the spaces within the pavilion is under the level of the soil and it has been covered by a system of cultivated rooftops that create a good barrier which helps reduce the energy consumption required by operating air conditioning systems. The vegetation used is typical of the surrounding desert environment, including some species that have never been cultivated by man before. Plants are positioned on rooftops and in gardens, creating an efficient landscape in terms of water management, that works thanks to a number of close circuit systems designed to filter, provision and recycle water. The surfaces above ground are covered with local stone, which provides a sufficient thermic mass in order to absorb heat, whereas the natural colour of the stones reflects the sunlight.

The apex of technology in this building can be found in the external garden, which offers visitors a large space cooled down passively. Studies in the thermodynamics of the area have been made in order to understand how the local breezes behaves, so as to model space in a way that allows the entrance of cool breezes from South-West, blocking warmer air currents. The roofing of the pavilion hosts over 6,000 sqm of highly efficient, monocrystalline photovoltaic cells that are incorporated in glass panels. The combination of cell and glass casing allows the building to exploit solar energy providing both shade and light. The visitor feels as if he were under a big tree that filters the light and plays with the surfaces it touches. The shape of the roofing is made in such a way that it directs fresh air inside, while simultaneously expelling warm air through a sort of chimney in the centre. The roofing also collects rainwater and dew, which end up in the building’s water system.

Moreover, the pavilion also features nineteen Energy Trees with a diameter of 15-18 metres, which provide 28% of the energy the building needs to work properly. E-Trees are designed to be independent structures providing shade. They are made of steel and other complex composites which sustain a photovoltaic system. The system works like a sunflower, following the sun and rotating 180 degrees during the course of the day, so as to maximise the energy production and augment the efficiency of solar cells. At night, it rotates back to its standard position. The structure is made of carbon fibre with radial branches surrounded by a compression ring that – thanks to its lightness and tenacity – allows the shape to extend in all directions without any additional support up to nine meters.

When Expo in Dubai will be over, the Sustainability Pavilion will be transformed into a science museum, continuing its mission of exploring sustainable practices for a virtuous management of the Earth.

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Marco Migliari is an architect who operates in industrial design. He is consultant for innovation, analyses the logic of development and the evolution of systems of objects and services aimed at the application in new products, especially in the sectors of design, materials and technology. He has organised workshops on product innovation in cooperation with Alessi, Fiat, Dupont, Landini, Philips, Piaggio, FederUnacoma. He has curated the innovation lab for FederUnacoma. He has created and participated in the founding of the permanent design observatory of ADI (Association for Industrial Design), that each year selects the best products to run for the Compasso d’oro prize, and puts them in the ADI Design Index. He has taught at ISIA in Rome, and he has contributed to the creation of the MA in System Design. He has also been professor at the IED (European Design Institute) both in Milan and in Rome, and at the Faculty of Design at Politecnico di Milano. Currently he is professor at the LABA academy in Brescia.