At Expo 2020 Dubai, All Roads Lead to Al Wasl

The plaza and giant dome create an open-air lobby that doubles as the world’s largest 360-degree projection theater and connects all corners of the Expo 2020 Dubai’s massive 1,083-acre campus.

Author: Jennifer N. Dienst       

Al Wasl Inside

A 4,000-year-old bronze ring recently unearthed in the Emirates was the inspiration for the delicate, lattice-like pattern of the Al Wasl dome.

Translated as “the connection” in Arabic, Al Wasl is the literal and figural crux of Expo 2020 Dubai. The plaza and dome is the singular dot that connects all corners of the expo’s massive 1,083-acre campus, which is split into three themed districts — Sustainability, Mobility, and Opportunity. At the center of it all, Al Wasl’s massive dome rises more than 221 feet, creating an open-air lobby that doubles as the world’s largest 360-degree projection theater (see video below). In either role — and from almost any vantage point — it is a showstopper of a space.

Al Wasl Aerial

After Expo 2020 Dubai wraps at the end of March 2022, Al Wasl will serve as a permanent event space, capable of hosting crowds of up to 10,000.

Since the expo kicked off in October of 2021, Al Wasl has served as a proverbial master of ceremonies, hosting celebrations, concerts, and performances of all kinds for the more than five million visitors who have come through its doors so far. “We had to make the plaza understandable for children as young as four to the oldest human visiting the expo site, and also to the people of every ethnicity,” Gordon Gill, founding partner of Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, told the Khaleej Times. Expo 2020 Dubai is the first-ever world expo hosted in the MENASA region and is also unique in that 192 countries chose to participate in the event, the highest number ever.

Gill said he pulled inspiration for the Al Wasl dome from a 4,000-year-old bronze ring recently unearthed in the Emirates, fixating on its unique geometry for the dome’s delicate, lattice-like pattern, which gives the impression that the 550-ton steel framework is somehow as light as air. Its purpose is twofold — providing shade from the intense desert sun above during the day and serving as an ornate canvas for projections in the evening.

Al Wasl will be one of just a few structures to remain after the expo wraps at the end of March 2022. In its second life, the fixture will serve as a permanent event space, capable of hosting crowds of up to 10,000 as well as anchoring District 2020, a mixed-use development encompassing offices, hotels, as well as the new Dubai Exhibition Centre, another expo legacy.

“The true potential of the dome is not yet known. The content team asked us what more they could do here and asked us if they could host concerts, live TV broadcasts, etc.,” Gill said. “They realized later that anything can be done from this space.”

Al Wasl Projection ‘Space Show’

Jennifer N. Dienst is managing editor of Convene.