Construction of Expo 2020's French pavilion is 50% complete

EXCLUSIVE: "When people come, there will be no doubt that they are in ‘Expo 2020 Dubai’s Pavilion of Light’"

The pavilion hosts a 40m terrace, as well as a canopy hanging at an altitude of 15m, which along with the façade forms an artificial screen and sky. [Image courtesy: Cofrex]
The pavilion hosts a 40m terrace, as well as a canopy hanging at an altitude of 15m, which along with the façade forms an artificial screen and sky. [Image courtesy: Cofrex]
Erik Linquier, General Commissioner, Expo 2020 French Pavilion. [Photo: Supplied]
Erik Linquier, General Commissioner, Expo 2020 French Pavilion. [Photo: Supplied]

The construction of the $15.6m French Pavilion, which is located within the Mobility District of the 4.38km2 Expo 2020 Dubai site, is 50% complete, with work progressing on schedule for a September 2020 handover, well before the 173-day “world’s greatest show” begins on 20 October.

The pavilion is being constructed over a built-up area of 4,200m2 by French developer-operator Cofrex, which is the French government firm responsible for organising and promoting France’s participation in World Expos.

The main contractor responsible for the construction is UAE-based Six Construct – a subsidiary of Belgian construction giant Besix.

UAE-based Rice Perry Ellis is the consultant on the project.

Marseille-based architectural firm Atelier du Prado and Paris-based Celnikier & Grabli Architectes have designed the pavilion based on the theme, “Lumière, Lumières” – translated as “Light, Enlightenment” – which was chosen by the French government.

The design of the pavilion is based on three pillars of bio-climatism, including controlling solar gains; providing a highly insulating waterproof envelope; and limiting the use of fossil fuels.

The building has been designed to ensure that Expo 2020 Dubai’s 25 million visitors feel and experience light, mobility, and sustainability even before they enter the pavilion.

In an exclusive conversation with Construction Week, the founding architect of Celnikier & Grabli Architectes, Jacob Celnikier, says: “From the first step into the site, people will have something to see, feel, and experience. People waiting in queue will not be bored. We have designed the space to ensure people are engaged before they enter the building.”

“In addition, the orientation of the pavilion is northward, and there will be a big shaded area to protect people from the sunlight and the heat,” he adds.

On the inside, the pavilion’s façade will have a built-up area of 5,100m2, including installations, temporary exhibitions, interactive experiences, shops, and restaurants on the ground floor.

The second and third floor of the building will have technical and administrative offices; and the fourth floor will comprise an auditorium, a conference centre, and meeting rooms.

The general commissioner of the French Pavilion, Erik Linquier, tells Construction Week: “We began work on the pavilion in mid-2019, after the 4,700m2 plot was handed over to us. We’re almost halfway through the construction. The shell and core of the pavilion is almost complete.”

The majority of the pavilion is a steel structure and is cladded at every floor with concrete. The steel for the structural works has been supplied by Dubai-based Galadari Engineering Works.

Structural works have been completed, with blockworks nearing completion. MEP works and partitions of the rooms are ongoing. The assembly of shops and restaurants will commence by end-July.

“We’re almost halfway through the construction. The shell and core of the pavilion is almost complete.” [Photo courtesy: Jessica Samson / ITP Media Group]

Let there be light

In keeping with its light-based theme, the pavilion will display 2,700m2 of photovoltaic (PV) panels covering the façade of the entire back of the pavilion, as well as the roof, which will power 80% of the pavilion’s electricity needs.

Linquier says: “These solar panels comprise high productivity PV cells that are developed by the French public government-funded research organisation Commissariat à l’Energie atomique et aux énergies Alternatives (CEA), who have created these panels specifically for the Expo 2020. This is the first time that these panels will be displayed and used.”

The installations of LED panels  in the pavilion is scheduled for mid-April, with the set-up of scenography due to start at the end of June.

Speaking to Construction Week, the director of the French Pavilion, Philippe Mille, adds: “Each of the PV panels will be coloured and when viewed together will create a design – inspired by French impressionist painter Monet.

“French company Akuo Energy and the architects have worked hard to balance the colour of each panel with the power that will be generated by the PV panels.”

Fire and safety has also been considered carefully for the PV panels. A number of tests have been conducted in France, as well as Dubai, with constant coordination with Dubai authorities.

Celnikier explains: “In France, for instance, the PV panels need to be tested by the company, and once the product is certified, it can be used any number of times on projects. In Dubai, it’s a little different, because each project needs to be certified individually.”

In addition, the pavilion hosts a 40m terrace, as well as a canopy hanging at an altitude of 15m, which along with the façade forms an artificial screen and sky that dematerialise day and night in line with its theme.

“It is a building that can be reused for a second, permanent life. It is a building that produces its own energy, and recycles its waste and water” [Photo courtesy: Jessica Samson / ITP Media Group]

Moving in the right direction

As part of the Mobility District, the pavilion will also focus on highlighting the achievements and strengths of French companies who lead the world in terms of mobility solutions.

Linquier says: “The French government chose to have its pavilion in the Mobility District for two main reasons. The first was based on the conviction that urban development leading to megacities will depend on advanced mobility solutions.

“The second reason was based on the fact that some of the world’s leading mobility players are French firms. RATPDev, Transdev, and Keolis – the three main players in urban transit are French, and we have a lot of other companies working on mobility.”

The Expo 2020 Dubai metro station has been designed by French consultancy AREP, which is a subsidiary of Saint-Denis-headquartered SNCF.

He adds: “We have designated approximately 1,000m2 to showcase French expertise on mobility. Mobility will be highlighted in terms of connectivity between infrastructure, in terms of speed, as well as in terms of light.”

The pavilion has already begun showcasing the impact of cutting-edge mobility technologies through its virtual platforms, including its website and its social media channels.

“On site, we’re going to have a big screen in front of the pavilion, which will display pictures and videos of mobility solutions in smart cities,” Linquier says.

“Inside the pavilion, we will showcase various forms of mobility – in terms of connecting people and in terms of light – and we will share use-cases of mobility projects in France, as well as projects around the world that use French expertise in mobility developments.”

All the technologies and ideas showcased at the French Pavilion will be based on real projects that have been successfully implemented.

The pavilion will also have a large outdoor space, where Expo 2020 Dubai visitors will be able to have tangible experiences with electrical bikes, demonstrating the mobility and sustainability required in smart cities.

Commenting on the pavilion’s green initiatives, Mille adds: “The building, in itself, is a demonstration of sustainability. It is a building that can be reused for a second, permanent life. It is a building that produces its own energy, and recycles its waste and water.

“It is also designed to show the best use of light, from the harnessing of energy for the light to the different ways in which light is used within the pavilion. When people come to the French Pavilion, there will be no doubt that they are in ‘Expo 2020’s Pavilion of Light’.”

When the Expo 2020 Dubai ends in April 2021, the pavilion will be dismantled. More than 80% of the pavilion – including the steel structure, electrical equipment, solar panels, and the cladding panels on the façade – will be reused.

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