The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai has co-hosted several sessions of the two-day ‘Symposium for Inclusive Urban Ingenuity’ as part of Expo 2020 Dubai’s thematic Urban and Rural Development Week. Held between 2-3 November, experts shared their knowledge and insights on key topics such as Aquatic Urbanism; Participation and Inclusivity; Desert Architecture and Climate Design; and Culture and Representation.
The hybrid in-person and virtual symposium was co-hosted by the Australian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai as well as the Expo 2020 Youth Pavilion. Participating entities included Griffith University (Australia), Effat University (Saudi Arabia), Zayed University (UAE), The University of Queensland (Australia), Bond University’s Abedian School of Architecture (Australia), UN Habitat; and Ingenious Women’s Initiatives for Sustainable Urban Development.
Welcoming the attendees, Hussain Hanbazazah, Commissioner General of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Pavilion, said Australia and Saudi Arabia share similar desert and coastal ecosystems and both face dramatic threats of desertification and climate change set to leave a lasting economic and social impact on urban coastal areas. “In view of these challenges, the Kingdom has recently launched the Saudi Green Initiative by planning to plant 10 billion trees and the Middle East Green Initiative aiming to plant 40 billion trees across the Middle East, along with ambitious plans, which will take us, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to net-zero by 2060 and improve the quality of life and protect future generations, within the Kingdom and the region,” he said.
Hanbazazah thanked the participants and attendees, adding the symposium highlighted“the Kingdom’s commitment to sustainable development and working on these critical issues with key partners and experts, allowing us to truly embody the (Expo theme of) ‘Connecting Mind, Creating the Future’.”
Justin McGowan, Australia’s Commissioner General for Expo 2020 Dubai, told the attendees: “It’s great to see so many academics and universities involved in such an important topic. The Symposium for Inclusive Urban Ingenuity is important for Australia. We’re very glad to see this conversation happening here today.”He added that Australia, the driest continent on Earth, Saudi Arabia and the broader Middle East, faced very similar climatic and environmental conditions which created many shared challenges.
Topics discussed by experts at the ‘Symposium for Inclusive Urban Ingenuity’ included challenges and opportunities faced by coastal cities, desert architecture, sustainability, and inclusive planning processes
Featuring Dr Maryam Ficociello, Chief Governance Officer, Red Sea Development Company and AMAALA (Saudi Arabia), Tuesday’s session on Aquatic Urbanism aimed to provide a critical overview of different approaches to dealing with challenges faced by and opportunities available to contemporary coastal cities – with more than 400 million people around the world living less than five meters above sea level and likely to experience many detrimental effects as a result of predicted rises in sea levels.
Dr Ficociello said even though the Red Sea Development Project covers a huge area of 30,000km2, as a sustainable and regenerative project, it has decided to only develop 1% of that land and avoids building in areas that would hurt the environment, such as islands that are natural holes for turtles or homes to migratory birds and pecans which are critically endangered. “We’re also trying to reach 30% net positive conservation by 2040,” she said. “We’ve been working on ensuring that we develop a tourism destination that is not just sustainable, but even more than that is regenerative. When we started development, we set out to ensure that whatever we’re developing makes sense and that we’re building around nature or with nature rather than moving nature aside and building.”
The Participation and Inclusivitysession, also on Tuesday, featured Samantha Cotterell, Executive Director – Design, Royal Commission for AlUla (Saudi Arabia); Dr Aida Robbana, UN-Habitat Head of Office in Tunisia; and two speakers who joined the event virtually – Prof. Yasser Elsheshtawy, Adjunct Professor of Architecture at Columbia University, New York (USA); and Prof. Asmaa Ibrahim, Dean of the College of Architecture and Design, Effat University (Saudi Arabia).
Other speakers included Asma Bukhammas, Interior Design Instructor, College of Arts and Creative Enterprises at Zayed University; and Yunsun Chung, Co-Founder and Director of INNOCO, an initiative that empowers youth to be leaders and community-builders, who has also taught art and design at Zayed University.
During the session, experts talked about how neoliberal urbanization policies that favor the interests of investors at the expense of the majority of city inhabitants remained prominent. However, they addressed that there are efforts that aim at mitigating such tendencies, that may help trigger a broader dialogue eventually leading to an open, accessible urban environment for all.
With desertification on the rise globally, coinciding with unprecedented population expansion and urbanization, the investigation of the Desert Architecture & Climate Designsession on Wednesday was framed by the ‘search for ecologically responsible urban and architectural development in environmentally challenged drylands and other climate zones’, according to the organizers. The speakers included Prof. Daniela Ottmann, Associate Professor, Abedian School of Architecture, Faculty of Society and Design, Bond University, and Adjunct Associate Professor, Griffith University, who addressed the panel virtually from Queensland, Australia. She delivered a keynote speech on ‘Desert Architecture: Design with Climate and Not Disaster’.
Key representatives and speakers from Red Sea Development Company and AMAALA, Royal Commission for AlUla, Columbia University, Art Jameel, and UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth came together to discuss pressing world issues
Sumaya Dabbagh, Principal at Dabbagh Architects (UAE, Saudi Arabia) spoke about climate architecture and how it is expressed in three layers. Addressing the panel virtually,Paul Haar, an architect from Australia, talked about ‘Architecture and Community in a Climate Emergency’. Also speaking virtually from Queensland, Australia,Dr Paola Leardini, Senior Academic of the University of Queensland’s School of Architecture, addressed the topic of design for the extreme Austrian climate from drought to flood. Prof. Heike Klussmann, Professor of Architecture, University of Kassel, Germany, also spoke virtually, with a presentation on the innovation of materials. She touched on the Bau Kunst Erfinden (Building Art Invention) platform at the University of Kassel.
In the Culture and Representation session, which concluded the event, the panel brought together leading experts from architecture, planning and governance, art, museum and cultural institutions, and academia to explore how the built environment, and created experiences within, impact our sense of belonging, guide understanding of culture, and enhance the representation of communities today. They addressed questions such as the role played by buildings, urban festivals, exhibitions, and art installations towards creating a sense of place in an increasingly digitally connected environment, among other topics. The panel kicked off with an opening dialogue on current approaches in urban governance of culture and representation in the UAE.
The speaker line-up includedProf. Adina Hempel, Architect and Associate Professor at Zayed University (UAE); Dr Alamira Reem Al Hashimi, Urbanist, Architect and Historian (UAE); Antonia Carver, Director of Art Jameel (UAE and Saudi Arabia); Sumantro Ghose,Artistic Programming Director for the Royal Commission for AlUla (Saudi Arabia); andShatha Al Mulla, Director – Arts Department, UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth (UAE).
The speakers who attended in person enjoyed a tour of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Pavilion at Expo 2020 – a uniquely-designed five-storey structure that is the second-largest pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai after the UAE’s and is the Kingdom’s ‘window’ to the world, reflecting both its past and aspiring future, showcasing each of the country’s 13 regions through immersive and interactive exhibits on the economy and investment, arts and culture, nature, energy, and much more. The Saudi pavilion is one of the most sustainable structures at Expo 2020 Dubai. The building fuses architecture with digital technology and has been awarded a LEED 4 Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) – the highest internationally recognized sustainability rating in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Visitors from across the world are flocking to the Pavilion to experience its unique state-of-the-art journey through the Kingdom’s rich past, vibrant present, and promising future. Over the six-month course of Expo 2020 Dubai, which is taking place under the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Building the Future’, the Saudi Arabia Pavilion is hosting many events, including discussions, panels and symposiums on various topics, as well as vibrant, diverse and powerful cultural shows that include dance, poetry, art and music.