Global brand experience agency Avantgarde has produced the UK Pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai in collaboration with award-winning artist and designer Es Devlin OBE.
Stuart Bradbury, Managing Director at Avantgarde London says, “When it comes to delivering an experience for a brand, it doesn’t get any bigger or more important than representing your country on a world stage.”
“The brief for the UK Pavilion appealed to us straight away because of the Expo ethos focused on experience.” says Steve Austen-Brown, Creative Director at Avantgarde London, “It was clear from the beginning that the Pavilion needed to go beyond a building or structure and be about the global audience that we want to engage and embrace.”
This sparked the initial discussions around finding the right partners for the project. Steve adds, “It was at this point that we reached out to Es Devlin who fully embodies one of the key UK Pavilion themes of collaboration. In fact, Es doesn’t recognise traditional clients or suppliers, she simply works with collaborators. A refreshing concept that has stuck with us and influenced the Pavilion design process.”
DESIGN TEAM REVIEWING THE COMPETITION ENTRY MODEL AT ES DEVLIN'S STUDIO, 2018
Es Devlin conceived the design to reflect the UK’s openness to trade and tourism, showcasing British innovation and inviting international collaboration on solutions to global challenges.
Their stand-out proposal, a radial timber cone that welcomes international visitors into a carefully curated journey of sights, sounds and experiences, saw the contract awarded to the team in September 2018. The visitor journey starts and ends with a Collective Message from humanity, co-created by visitors through an Artificial Intelligence driven algorithm, illuminated on the façade of the pavilion.
Experience First: ‘story doing’
Having worked at previous World Expos, the team understood what was required from the design. “UK Pavilions at World Expos have a recent history of bold theatrical storytelling, with an Instagrammable exterior inviting visitors in to immerse themselves in an impactful and simple story,” Steve explains “The experience always comes first”.
“For Expo 2020 Dubai, the Pavilion needed to have presence and allow visitors to feel involved,” Steve continues, “This plays right into our expertise at Avantgarde. We think in terms of ‘story doing’ not storytelling, as doing something is always more powerful than just saying it. Through story doing visitors can actively take part and become engaged in their visit to the UK Pavilion, which helps build relationships, drive action and create shareable experiences. This is how, in collaboration with Es, we came up with the Collective Message. Anyone visiting from around the world can contribute to the message from humanity and have a role in creating it.”
DESIGN TEAM (RUBY LAW, JOE ROPER & JOHN L'ANSON), 2019
The Collective Message
Combining the UK’s specialisms in space and artificial intelligence, the Collective Message is inspired by one of Stephen Hawking’s last projects, the Breakthrough Message, an international competition asking: “If we or others succeed in discovering another civilization, what should we say to them?”
Having explored the UK Pavilion, which also includes a Maze of Aspiration, the Inspiration Gallery, the 1851 restaurant and a global Soundscape, visitors are invited to donate an inspiring word to the Collective Message. From this word, an AI algorithm, which has been trained on the works of over 100 contemporary British poets, will compose a couplet of poetry. The couplet will form part of an evolving display illuminating the façade of the stunning structure to welcome in new visitors from across the Expo 2020 Dubai site.
Driving new opportunities
The opportunity to be involved in the design of the UK Pavilion has been a conversation starter for Avantgarde. Stuart adds, “The UK Pavilion is a fantastic demonstration of our expertise in practice, putting experience first to truly engage the audience. The scale of the collaboration is significant. We typically spend three to six months on a project, but the UK Pavilion is heading towards three years now. It’s an amazing project to be involved in and really represents our values at Avantgarde: innovation, story doing and creating a sense of place.”
ES DEVLIN & NIGEL RICHARDS (DIT) REVIEW THE EXPO SITE MODEL AT THE FIRST TEAM SITE VISIT, 2018
AVANTGARDE & DIT REVIEW THE FULL-SCALE EXHIBITION GRAPHIC PRINT OUTS LAID OUT IN THE FOREIGN OFFICE MAIN ATRIUM, 2020
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