Credit: Courtesy of HOK


Dubai has been chosen as the host for the World Expo in 2020 with a master plan designed by international firm HOK. The Expo is expected to draw over 25 million visitors from October 2020 through April 2021. The Expo is the third-largest global event after the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.

Representatives of the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) member nations announced Dubai as the location for the World Expo on Nov. 27 after a two-year-long bidding process. Dubai, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2021, won over three other cities in the final round of voting: Sao, Paulo, Brazil; Yekaterinburg, Russia; and Izmir, Turkey. Dubai will become the first Middle Eastern city to ever host this event since its inception in 1851. An estimated 70 percent of the expected 25 million visitors will originate from outside of Dubai, according to an HOK press release.


The U.S. has made several efforts to bring the World Expo to the country, with cities, including Houston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. The United States, however, is not one of the 168 member nations of the BIE, the governing body overseeing World Expos.


The theme of Dubai Expo 2020 chosen by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” as a nod to the expected influx of international visitors for this event in particular. The theme will explore three subcategories, identified as the key drivers of global development: sustainability of energy and water; mobility with smart systems of logistics and transportation; and new opportunities for economic development.

HOK's master plan features three separate pavilions symbolizing the subthemes, sustainability, mobility, and opportunity. Each pavilion includes “innovation pods” and “best practice areas” pertaining to each particular theme. The pavilions surround a central plaza named the "Al Wasl," the historic Arabic name for Dubai meaning "the connection." Derived from the layout of a traditional Arabic "souk," or marketplace, the design places larger pavilions around the perimeter of the site and smaller exhibit spaces at the center of the site. This arrangement is also designed to create smooth traffic flow while encouraging interaction among visitors.

The 1,082-acre site is located on the southwestern edge of Dubai in Jebel Ali, near Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport and the Jebel Ali Port, the world's largest man-made harbour and the biggest port in the Middle East. This location provides logistical advantages for bringing in construction materials, as well as visitors.

  • Credit: Courtesy of HOK


HOK has focused its master plan on creating new standards for sustainability in the Middle East. A photovoltaic fabric structure covers the site's main walkways, functioning as a solar-powered sun shade. At night, the fabric will turn into an illuminated display of lights and digital projections. The fabric structure and photovoltaic panels on building facades together could garner enough sunlight to generate at least half of the Expo's energy requirements onsite.

Streets within the site will be shaded through the use of pavilions and strategic landscaping. Alternative transportation plans include a gondola linking each thematic zone with the main entrance, also creating a unique viewing experience for visitors. Additional sustainable strategies include recycling wastewater and reusing materials.

After the close of the Expo in April 2021, three main pavilions – the Welcome Pavilion, the Innovation Pavilion and the UAE Pavilion – will be combined to become Museum of the Future. The country has seen significant rise in museums in recent years, providing a promising future for the area's cultural sector.

  • Credit: Courtesy of HOK


HOK worked with the global design firm formerly known as HOK Sport, Populous, which provided venue planning and participant design guidelines, and global firm Arup (known for its work on the Sydney Opera House and the 2008 Olympics in Bejing), which provided infrastructure and transportation services, on the master plan.

"This win is a testament to the commitment of the UAE citizens to create a prosperous future for their country and region," said HOK's management principal in Dubai, Daniel Hajjar, in a press release.

To support the World Expo 2020, the UAE is expected to award an estimated $35 billion in construction and other supplier contracts in the upcoming year.

For more images and information on the Dubai 2020 World Expo Master Plan, please visit ARCHITECT Magazine's Project Gallery.