Featured image 2x

Dubai Expo 2020 UK Pavillion

The Ocean of Light was a fourth-stage finalist for the UK Pavillion competition for the 2020 World Expo in Dubai. Integration led the environmental and services design supporting Tonkin Liu Architects. Four unique experience zones were created through the environmental design process in order to complement the architectural themes and delight visitors. Zero carbon was achieved through the passive low energy design and roof mounted solar PV.


The Southern zone of the Great Ocean Hall has a protective façade that prevents direct solar gains. The dark blue façade, comprising of strands of rope bound together, is shaped to allow for self-shaded openings. This zone is designed to create a dark environment contrasted by plays of light brilliance via thin shafts of direct sunlight allowed to enter into the space. These shafts of light move organically within the area as the wind passively moves the façade and are reflected by the mirrored interior surfaces. Diffuse daylight also enters the space via the skylight at the top of the 8 glass lift shafts. These provide visitors with focal glows at high-level.

Occupant coolth in this zone is provided by low-energy radiant cooling via underfloor cooling and the cool glass lift shafts. Radiant cooling is effective in this zone as the air will be relatively still. Dynamic Thermal Modelling of the system shows that when the outside air temperature is 25°C it feels on average 2.3°C cooler inside.

During very hot days, supplementary low-level displacement ventilation can be provided from outlets at the base of the lift shafts when required.


The Northern zone, which doesn’t receive direct solar, has a more open façade. As the façade wraps around to the north the spacing between the ropes is allowed to increase in certain areas to promote crossflow ventilation. The colour of the façade also changes to include shades of green shade representing undulating sea kelp.

In this zone the environment is lighter, airy, more dynamic, with deep vibrational sounds from the passive Aeolian Harp integrated into the northern section of the façade. Prevailing NW winds funnelled by the neighbouring building are captured in order to provide a very different form of passive cooling compare to the southern zone. evaporative cooling of the incoming air will take place as it passes through the three inner bays which have integrated water systems to soak the ropes with water at the occupied level.


On entering the lift, the user will experience a sharp refreshing sensation of coolth. The lift allows the visitors to ascend into the dense bright translucent cloud of suspended water droplets brightly lit by the skylight above. The cloud allows for passive cooling from the evaporation of the water droplets which takes the supply air from 20°C / 50%RH to 14°C / 100%RH. The supply air to the lift shafts is the cool exhaust air recycled from the Exhibition Hall.

This cloud dynamically descends and ascends organically as the lift moves through its cycles and heat gains are introduced. This water mist will be produced by the technology developed by the Integration directors for the innovative Blind Light exhibition by artist Anthony Gormley. The technology will be located and concealed at the top of the lift shafts. The water droplets are very small and do not wet clothes or skin as the visitors pass through the cloud.


The final experiential zone is the high-level exhibition floor which is maintained to a comfortable 20°C throughout in order to support occupants as they engage with the vivid interactive digital displays.


The façade has been designed to be self-shading from the sun in order to allow the façade to be openable. The openable areas are positioned in the areas that have the lowest incident solar irradiation areas as determined by solar irradiation mapping.

A dynamic thermal model of the installation was created in order to assess the comfort performance of the design. The model and example data are shown below. It was concluded that the passive cooling strategy reduced internal comfort temperatures by an average of 2.7°C when external air temperatures were greater than 25°C (between 20th October and 4th April).

On peak days, active cooling is provided in the form of displacement cooling from the base of the cooled lift shafts. Peak days are most common at the start of the expo, in October and early November, and towards the end in April. It was calculated that passive cooling provides comfortable condition for 95% of hours and active cooling would be required for 5% of hours between 20th October and 4th April.

Project Details

  • Project

    Dubai Expo 2020 UK Pavillion
  • Location

  • Client

  • Architect

    Tonkin Liu
  • Status

    Competition entry