Nothing was left to chance by Norman Foster + Partners. The pavilion architect's team photographed sand dunes in the UAE to recreate the complexities of their ripples on the pavilion walls.
These photographs were used to make a series of computer-generated moulds so that eventually visitors to the UAE pavilion at Milan Expo 2015 could relive the experience of walking in a real desert city.
The planners and architects blended storytelling and creativity with the construction to make it an authentic moment.
The giant sand walls across the 140-metre site realistically capture dune ridges, creating a winding, canyon-like path for the expo audience.
"I hope that it will inspire visitors by evoking the magnificent natural landscape that unites the Emirates and give a sense of walking around an ancient desert city,” said Gerard Evenden, senior executive partner at Foster + Partners.
"The scale of the project and curvature of the walls means that the shape of each panel has to be very precise to fit with the next.”
The cladding material for the golden drum section is similar to that used for euro coins. A steel frame supports the glass-reinforced concrete panel walls. These can be easily dismantled and reconstructed in November at the end of the world fair when the pavilion moves to its permanent home in Masdar.
"The design reflects our investigations into the form of ancient cities and our appreciation for the desert landscape,” said Norman Foster, chairman of the architecture firm.
"Our challenge has been to design for two climates.”
The high dune walls provide shade, much like the narrow streets in old villages and towns in the UAE. This makes the dramatic curving ramp and oasis areas of the pavilion cooler than the exterior sections.
The 12-metre high walls are made of 903 individual glass reinforced concrete panels.
Visitors walk up a gentle ramp towards a state-of-the-art auditorium contained within a golden drum at the heart of the site.
Irrigation aqueducts that have supported agriculture in the region are digitally introduced to the visitors as they walk along the route.
"The pavilion is unique for its representation of the desert landscape and planning traditions of the Emirates,” Mr Evenden said.
"In terms of climate and water scarcity, the UAE is experiencing today what the world will experience tomorrow. Our design highlights the challenges of sustaining life in a desert climate.”
The digital sessions explain how the country's solutions to tackle scarce resources are based on local needs and could have a global effect since other parts of the world are tackling similar challenges.
Visitors learn about green energy technologies through interactive stories that bring the UAE's history to life to explain how a harsh desert was transformed into a source of water, food and energy for a growing population.
"The aim is also to educate visitors about some of the exciting sustainability initiatives in the UAE. We have addressed the theme of ‘Feeding the planet' in different ways – the journey starts by exploring the challenges and presenting possible solutions, before looking at the future,” he said.