Australia's “straight forward decision” for Expo 2020 Dubai

EXCLUSIVE: CW gets the reaction to the one-year delay of Expo 2020 Dubai from the Australia pavilion

Justin McGowan, commissioner-general of Australia at Expo 2020 Dubai
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Justin McGowan, commissioner-general of Australia at Expo 2020 Dubai

For Australia, the decision to participate in World Expos is not one to be taken lightly. The last World Expo that Australia participated in was the Expo 2010 Shanghai in China.

“We missed the World Expo in 2015, but this one [Expo 2020 Dubai] had a very compelling business case. It was a straight-forward decision for Australia to participate at the World Expo,” says Justin McGowan, commissioner-general of Australia at the Expo 2020 Dubai, while speaking to Construction Week in a virtual interview.

He continues: “This will be the largest ever participated expo, which is fantastic. The visitor profile is compelling, and it is truly a global event with 70% of the visitors expected to come from outside the UAE, which is not typical for expo.”

 According to McGowan, the hub nature of Dubai makes it the “perfect location” for the World Expo. “The financial, logistics, and the ideation hub, that is Dubai, is really a place where the world comes together, so it was a natural fit for Australia.”

Based on the theme ‘Blue Sky Dreaming’, the Australian Pavilion is located within the Mobility District at the World Expo’s 4.38km2 site in Dubai South.

“The theme of the Australian Pavilion talks about an ambitious, optimistic, and young nation that has grown on 60,000 years of civilisation in terms of innovation, indigenous connection to land, sea, and sky,” explains McGowan.

He continues: “What you’ll see from the Australian Pavilion is innovation, and research and development (R&D) that we have in a whole range of sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing, and space industry.”

In May 2020, it was confirmed that Expo 2020 Dubai will run from 1 October, 2021 to 31 March, 2022, instead of its previous timeline, 20 October, 2020 to 10 April, 2021. The change in dates was announced after a two-thirds majority of the Bureau International des Expositions’ (BIE) member states voted in favour of postponing the World Expo by a year, as a way for participating nations to cope with the impact of COVID-19 that has left an unprecedented effect on global economies.

Speaking about the delay and what it means for Australia, McGowan says that the proposed one year delay doesn’t affect the work at the pavilion “so much”.

“We are on-track, even if the event was to open in October 2020, and not October 2021. We are in a very strong position to finish the pavilion on-time.”

Currently, Australia is reviewing its budget for its participation at the World Expo in light of a one-year postponement.

 McGowan notes: “Things like utility costs and putting the pavilion into a hibernated state for a period of time will inevitably have additional costs that we need to manage.”

Talking about the funding model of the Australian Pavilion, McGowan says: “It is 100% by the public money, with additional events and activations being funded through sponsorships and partnerships with the private sector.”

A three-storey structure, the Australia Pavilion is being built on a 3,500m2 plot.

 “The peak of the building will be about 21m-high and the usable floor area within the building will be between 2,700m2 to 3,000m2,” McGowan says. “That is a good size in terms of managing up to 15,000 visitors a day coming to the pavilion.”

Brisbane-based architects bureau proberts have designed the pavilion, with UK’s Turner & Townsend being appointed as the design consultant for the project.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Dfat) has also picked TVG to operate the pavilion. A cultural programme is curated by Jacqui Bonner Marketing + Management (JBMM), with the pavilion’s visitor journey being planned by Melbourne-based Accolade.

The tender to construct the Aussie Pavilion was issued at the end of October 2018. In May 2019, the contract was awarded to Dubai-based contractor, ASGC, with the ground on the pavilion being broken in July. Foundation works on the pavilion commenced in September.

ASGC is working with its subsidiary, Al Shafar Interiors (ASI) on the pavilion. “At this stage we are very impressed with the work they are doing,” McGowan says, commenting on the contractor’s work.

He continues: “A contract for the decommissioning of the pavilion has already been issued, and it is also through ASGC.”

Explaining about various materials used at the pavilion, McGowan says: “The entire cloud structure is made of aluminium sheets — 90% of which comes from Australian products — that have been produced off-site and manufactured in the UAE. These aluminium sheets will go back to a company called Gulf Extrusions — the flagship company of the Al Ghurair Group of Companies — which is lending the material for the pavilion.”

Meanwhile, Hemal Group, a family-owned company from Tasmania has supplied hardwood cross laminated timber for the terrain.

 SMI (Steel Masters International), a UAE-based company, which has “a connection to Australia”, has provided the middle decking of the pavilion.

 Another Aussie firm, Design Conference, which is also located in Abu Dhabi, did all the fire and safety elements, with cloud lighting design being done by Skyelume.

Additionally, all the bathroom accessories at the pavilion have been supplied by Caroma, which enables real-time tracking of water usage throughout the building.

The Blue Sky Dreaming-themed Australian Pavilion has completed over 60,000 safe man-hours on-site. As of April 2020, Australia has deployed around 70 to 80 workers on-site, and during peak construction period, the number goes up to between 100 to 120.

McGowan says: “We take the health and safety of our workers incredibly seriously. Regardless of the schedule and timeline, the safety of workers is paramount to Australia. Our worker healthcare and safety standards have been exemplary to-date; and we have had no injuries or accidents.”

He adds: “We are on-track and it is an accelerated process. However, this is one of those unique projects where the deadline is truly moveable.”

Overall construction including the visitor experience, the shell and core, as well as furniture installation is 50% complete at the pavilion.

 Meanwhile, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) works have commenced at the pavilion, and it is being carried out by Abu Dhabi-based electrical and mechanical engineering and contracting firm, Lasco.

“We have a really strong design in terms of MEP, but you need to think about — now that the delay is occurring — on how to structure the warranties and the durability periods.

“However, we will still continue with the installation, testing, and commissioning, and we will put the pavilion into an hibernated state, until we are ready, closer to the time of the opening next year,” McGowan affirms.

The commissioner-general concludes: “If you come to the Australian Pavilion, we would love to have you as our guest, but be prepared, it is going to be something that is really compelling.

 We are looking forward to bringing that to the world.”

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