Expo City Dubai X Monocle

How to build a city

What do you do after delivering the most diverse and sustainable world expo in history? With the team behind Expo 2020 Dubai already preparing to host COP28 in 2023, we find out what it takes to transition from a megaevent to a future city built for purposeful living.


The Expo 2020 Dubai opening ceremony inside the Al Wasl Plaza was a celebration of global connection and hope for the future

Activating legacy mode
It is undeniable that Expo 2020 Dubai was a success. But far from resting on its laurels or its pledge of “connecting minds and creating the future through sustainability, mobility and opportunity”, the event instead marked the beginning of a new era. Since its start, Expo 2020 Dubai was always intended to transform itself: from a site that would host 192 countries for six months of events into the largest and most advanced purpose-built sustainable city in the world.
Find out more at expocitydubai.com

The Vision

How Expo 2020 Dubai wanted to put into practice ambitious ideas about how we live and work.

Twice the size of Monaco, Expo City Dubai is leading the way to becoming a clean, green, innovation-driven city of the future and a blueprint for sustainable urban planning. By building upon the legacy of Expo 2020 Dubai, the leadership is on target to deliver on its original promise.


The view from the Garden in the Sky

24.1 million
The number of physical visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai. A further 250 million visitors attended events virtually.

The total nations represented, making Expo 2020 Dubai the most diverse and inclusive in 171 years of such events.

The success of the first world expo to take place in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia rests on the long-term benefits that it grants the region and the world after the event has closed. From conception to delivery and legacy, smart planning and essential guiding values informed the development of the city. Expo 2020 Dubai was a platform in which every level of society – from government to business, NGOs, academia and the public – could gather and learn from one another. 

As the organisers pledged to connect minds and create the future, technology was used as a tool for change, empowering participants and visitors with the knowledge they need to make a tangible difference to the health of people and planet. “What we are seeing here is a demonstration of our best selves in every single pavilion,” said UN deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed. “That is what this opportunity, this experience, has done: it has inspired against all odds.”

Visitors to Terra

Egypt Pavilion

The opening ceremony

“Just as the transformative influence of Expo 2020 Dubai will echo for generations to come, the power of Expo City Dubai is designed to resonate far beyond the bounds of event time. It is at this juncture that we move forward more purposefully than ever, from the moment of a lifetime to a new way of life.”

Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy, CEO, Expo City Dubai Authority

Dubai won the bid to host Expo 2020 in part thanks to its masterplan that laid out how it would transition from an event space into a sustainable city of the future where the Expo’s learnings could be implemented. As such, sustainability has been embedded throughout the city, from its architecture to its school learning programmes. Innovative ideas explore how technology is redefining the way we live in a 5G-enabled, state-of-the-art city. Endless entertainment welcomes fresh talent and A-list superstars, while expanded horizons ensure it is a place to fuel imaginations, challenge ideas and inspire the leaders of tomorrow.

Future City

How Expo City Dubai ensured a strong framework for successful growth 

Creating a purpose-built city is a giant undertaking so a strong framework is required to ensure that the development is seamless and successful. However, a liveable city also needs organic growth and a general feeling of community for it to attract residents; Expo City Dubai has all this in hand.

1. Physical environment


• All 123 permanent buildings are LEED certified, including seven awarded “platinum”, 105 “gold” and nine “silver”

• Expo City Dubai was awarded eight CEEQUAL “excellent” certificates for infrastructure and public realm projects

• Expo City Dubai is the Middle East’s first WELL Community Standard project to support people’s health and wellbeing

• Five-and-a-half megawatts of rooftop solar PV have been incorporated into permanent buildings across Expo City Dubai

2. Operating environment 


• Expo 2020 Dubai developed the RISE Guidelines for Sustainable Operations and will continue to use them for Expo City Dubai

• Siemens’ MindSphere Smart City platform optimises operations across more than 140 buildings city wide

• The city’s design results in a 33 per cent reduction in energy demand compared to international standards

• 88 per cent of construction and operations waste was diverted from landfill between the start of construction and the expo’s end

3. Experiential environment


• Ninety-two per cent of visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai’s Mobility Pavilion said the experience inspired them to make a better future

• Ninety-six per cent of visitors to the Sustainability Pavilion said the experience inspired them to make a positive change

• The curated pavilion programming engaged more than one million school children during Expo 2020 Dubai

• Exhibitions reflected the stories and priorities of 192 nations with all hosting their own pavilion for the first time in expo history

4. Programmed environment


• The global agenda-setting Programme for People and Planet was endorsed by 192 nations, 142 of which participated in a programme featuring more than 20,000 speakers

• More than 20 self-guided visitor journeys drew parallels and points of connection between different countries and cultures

• The Change the World Challenge inspired more than 80,000 people to pledge their own specific contributions to making a better future for all

5. Virtual environment

• There were more than a quarter of a billion virtual visits to Expo 2020 Dubai during the six months of event time, exploring immersive experiences and gamified plug-ins such as Minecraft

• Substantive events recorded an online audience of 29 million

• The Seeds of Change gamification platform connected millions of people to projects reducing carbon emissions, while guiding Expo 2020 Dubai’s carbon offset investment

• More than 8.6 million schoolchildren from 71 countries engaged with Expo 2020 Dubai online

Expo City Dubai is impactful urban design in action. Transparency, partnership and a commitment to consistent and reliable metrics that redefine what it means to achieve success in modern sustainable urban development can be found throughout.

“Expo City Dubai is focused on the well-being of its occupants and is a walkable city,” says architect Gordon Gill, who designed the central Al Wasl Plaza. “It also has a human scale and character that is welcoming and comforting. It is highly functional at its core, with access and serviceability discretely designed into the city network with a strong public realm experience that is beautifully landscaped and serves as a connected network of paths and streets of differing scales. It is an intelligent and resilient city that has a fibre backbone that allows for the next generation of technology to be easily implemented.” 

The physical environment of the city addressed the challenges of fragmentation that often appear in creating urban spaces and acted as the foundation for sustainability at Expo. The operating environment addressed this through the everyday life of the city with activities that impact the community and the natural ecosystems. The city embraces third-party certification and collaboration that match global benchmarks and expectations across both these layers.

The experiential environment enriches the visitor experience through exploration and discovery, with meaningful engagement motivating positive action. Meanwhile the programmed environment provides platforms for awareness, education and dialogue that inspires change amongst all ages. Finally, the virtual environment makes good on the promise to leave no-one behind by sharing the Expo City Dubai experience with the world and removing barriers to engagement, action and impact. This is a place for all that reflects the spirit of inclusivity with which it was conceived. 

Siemens is just one of many multinational corporations to be impressed by Expo City Dubai. Oliver Kraft, the executive VP of Sustainable Communities for Siemens UAE, explains why the company has chosen to base its regional office here. “We are setting up a new organisation called Siemens SI Sustainable Communities with focus on technology that can turn communities into smart urban environments,” he says. “More than 200 Siemens engineers, technical experts and staff will work here. Together with Expo 2020 Dubai, we selected technologies in the areas of safety and security, quality of life, sustainability and resilience. These are all key requirements for city dwellers so it was obvious for Siemens to choose Expo City as our new hub in Dubai.”

Now that Expo City Dubai has made the transition, what can its first residents expect from their new home? Beyond the sustainably-built environment and cutting-edge connectivity, the city is attracting businesses of all sizes with world-beating benefits and an evolving programme of events.

What’s Next

What visitors can expect going forward from Expo City Dubai


Built to host the world expo, Expo City Dubai will once again become the focus of global attention when it welcomes COP28 in 2023. “As a living, breathing city born of a commitment to innovation and green technology, we’re a natural home for COP,” says Ahmed Al Khatib, chief development and delivery officer at Expo City Dubai. The city’s sustainable credentials have enhanced during the transition from event space to everyday metropolis: pavilions have been deconstructed and repurposed in a sustainable manner, becoming a part of the circular economy. Visitors can take advantage of a host of experiences, ranging from the new Stories of Nations exhibitions to existing pavilions including Terra – the Sustainability Pavilion, Alif – the Mobility Pavilion, the Women’s Pavilion and several country pavilions.

Guests at the on-site Rove Hotel can enjoy easy access to Al Wasl Plaza, the Surreal water feature and the African dining hall, Alkebulan. “Welcoming the world is in our DNA,” says Nadia Verjee, executive director of the Expo Dubai Group, a new entity charged with carrying forward the vast legacy of the expo. “We will continue to bring people together and iterate for the future we need.”

Leveraging a decade of expertise and experience in hands-on sustainable urban development, Expo Dubai Group is offering 360-degree city advisory services in a bid to share knowledge with leaders around the world. It is also establishing itself as a destination for thought leadership programming around issues that are critical to the future of people and planet, as well as an emerging hub for creative storytelling and public engagement.


As Expo City Dubai looks forward to a cleaner, greener and healthier future, the city is offering an open invitation – to mayors, urban planners, thought leadership event planners and anyone in the business of creating a better, more sustainable world – to come and visit them. They can even set up shop with the intent of fostering an ongoing, active conversation about all of our futures.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle 24

00:00 01:00