Es Devlin creates UK Pavilion to represent “culturally diverse Britain” at Dubai Expo

UK Pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020 by Es Devlin

British designer Es Devlin has unveiled her cross-laminated timber Poem Pavilion, which is the UK’s contribution to the Dubai Expo 2020.

Named the Poem Pavilion, the timber pavilion has been designed to display a series of AI-generated poems during the international event, which opens in Dubai this week.

Poem Pavilion at Dubai Expo
Es Devlin designed the Poem Pavilion for the Dubai Expo 2020

Constructed from cross-laminated timber, the cone-shaped pavilion has a circular facade made from protruding slats.

Poems created from words submitted by visitors and generated by AI will be written in English and Arabic using LED lights on the facade.

UK Pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020
The pavilion’s facade displays AI-generated poems

“Shaped like a giant wooden conical musical instrument, the Poem Pavilion gathers words donated by each visitor,” Devlin told Dezeen.

“It uses an advanced machine learning algorithm to generate the cumulative collective poem which illuminates its twenty-metre diameter facade.”

Poem written on Es Devlin's Poem Pavilion
The poems ob the facade of the pavilion will be written in English and Arabic

The structure, which is the first UK pavilion designed by a female designer since the first Expo in 1851, aims to draw attention to both the growing importance of algorithms and the diversity of the UK.

“Algorithms are among us, they are an ever-growing part of our culture, their output is based on what they are trained on and who trains them,” said Devlin.

“The pavilion is at once an expression of the ideal of a culturally diverse Britain that I grew up with, tempered with our growing awareness of the part algorithms play in shaping the future of our culture.”

Inside the UK Pavilion at Dubai Expo
There is a curved void inside the pavilion

Within the pavilion, there will not be an exhibit. “The building is the exhibit”, explained Devlin.

Instead, there is a curved void with walls covered in LED tiles that will also display donated words. This will be paired with a soundscape drawn from choirs from different ethnicities all over the UK.

Inside the UK Pavilion
There is no exhibit inside the pavilion

Devlin hopes that the pavilion will project a sense of the UK’s openness to the 25 million visitors expected to the expo.

“A sense of Britain as a place that’s open, welcoming, questioning, uncertain, contradictory, inconsistent, fallible, sometimes nonsensical, majestic, comical, beautiful, and accessible to all,” she said.

Interior of Es Devlin's Poem Pavilion
Poems will also be displayed on the inside of the pavilion

The pavilion was designed with structural engineer Atelier One, environmental design consultant Atelier Ten, executive architect Veretec and creative agency Avantgarde.

It was built from cross-laminated timber rather from concrete or steel to reduce its environmental impact.

“The pavilion is an act of European and international collaboration: its cross-laminated timber is thoroughly European: grown and assembled in Austria and Italy,” said Devlin.

“The LED tiles were engineered in Belgium and manufactured in China, the algorithm was engineered in California, the list goes on…”

UK Pavilion at Dubai Expo
The pavilion will open to the public in Dubai from 1 October

The pavilion is the UK’s contribution to the Dubai Expo 2020, which opens to the public on 1 October.

It follows Wolfgang Buttress’ beehive-inspired UK Pavilion at the Milan Expo in 2015 and Thomas Heatherwick’s Seed Cathedral, which was created for Shanghai Expo 2010.

Devlin sees her pavilion as sharing similar ideals to these two past pavilions.

“The poetry has a tentative, provisional, vulnerable and inquisitive quality – I think both Wolfgang Buttress and Thomas Heatherwick successfully avoided any trace of national bombast in their beautiful works for Milan and Shanghai and I have very much tried to continue their thread.”

Photography is by Alin Consstantin, courtesy of Es Devlin.

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