Experiencing the “mobility of the future” at Belgium Pavilion

Located within the Mobility District, Expo 2020 Dubai’s Belgium Pavilion will be a minimal waste structure driven by ‘eco-design’ and will feature the theme of ‘Smart and Green Belgium 2050’.

Speaking to Construction Week in a remote interview, Patrick Vercauteren Drubbel, commissioner general of Belgium at Expo 2020 Dubai, says that the design of the pavilion compliments the theme “very well”.

“We are very lucky, because we have secured the best Belgian architects [for the pavilion],” says Vercauteren Drubbel. 

Shaped as a green arch, the structure will highlight Belgium’s industrial, technological, and scientific expertise, with its exhibition set to use immersive and participative technology, as well as prospective scenography.

The structure also features a spiral vault that spirals 180 degrees, and has an agora underneath that spans both sides of the pavilion. It is designed to create an inverted island effect.

Six Construct is the main contractor of the pavilion, with a joint venture of Belgian contractor BESIX, ASSAR Architects, and Vincent Callebaut acting as the main consultant.

The Belgium Pavilion will have two 15 metre high green façades, which according to Vercauteren Drubbel, will bring “colour, freshness, and serenity” to the pavilion.

The plot size of the pavilion is 2,400m2, with the country being allowed to build on 1,500m2 area; and the overall built-up area is 6,000m2.

The tendering process for the Belgium Pavilion has been different and Vercauteren Drubbel says: “The tender was issued in two phases [because] in Belgium we have to respect the European law for international tenders, therefore the whole process lasted for one year.”

Ground on the pavilion was broken in September 2019.

Construction update

Talking about the current construction progress, the commissioner general says: “The building is more than 60% completed and we are still working on mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) works. Our plan is to finish the core of the pavilion as soon as possible, and we will finalise the fit-out some weeks or months before the opening.”

“The construction of the pavilion is progressing at a slower pace, as we are in no rush to finish.

Our main priority on-site is towards the welfare of our workers. The one year extension provides certain flexibility concerning the hours of labour for our people on-site.”

He continues: “Working towards a project of this dimension generally demands a great commitment from everyone involved, but this way we have the ability to ease the workload.”

Belgium plans to continue the work and secure the building to keep it safe, in order to withstand the weather conditions in Dubai, till the opening on 1 October, 2021.

“We will return to the construction site a few months before the opening to install the technological elements, and move ahead with painting and finishing works at the pavilion,” Vercauteren Drubbel tells Construction Week.

Expo postponement

Like many of the participating nations, Belgium has supported Expo 2020 Dubai’s decision for a year-long postponement, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on global public, social, and economic health.

Vercauteren Drubbel tells Construction Week that the decision to postpone the World Expo was very “progressive”. “We collectively agreed that the situation became infinitely complex and that there remained no alternative but to postpone.

“The organisers of Expo 2020 Dubai and Secretary General of the BIE in Paris were very transparent, and above all very courageous to take this very difficult and historical decision.”

Talking about encountering difficulties due to the outbreak of the pandemic, Vercauteren Drubbel says: “We realised that we might encounter some difficulties the minute we were informed in the beginning of March 2020 that some suppliers would have delays and problems delivering the building materials in due time.

“As soon as it became clear that there would be a postponement, we started the preparations for the belated opening.”

Budget changes

The commissioner general explains: “The postponement in general has a lot of consequences on construction activities that have to be adapted to the new agenda; for the staff; and for our relations with suppliers.”

All these adjustments will have a cost, which Belgium had not “foreseen”.

Vercauteren Drubbel explains: “We are now attempting to procure new additional costs at a lower price, and obtain extra budget.”

Health and safety first

However, the commissioner general says that the health and safety of workers is “far more important than the financial costs.”

Belgium has been concerned about its workers on-site and continued to ensure that the health and safety standards were met. “We did not wait for the coronavirus crisis to put very strong safety measures in place on our site,” Vercauteren Drubbel adds.

“In consultation with our contractor, [we] assured that all necessary health and safety measures were taken to protect the workers.

Regular checks and audits are also being carried out for the contractor and subcontractors of the Belgium Pavilion to ensure that all regulations are met.”

Sustainable pavilion

According to the commissioner general, Belgium has been trying to have a pavilion “as sustainable as possible”, and has sourced the majority of its construction materials from Dubai.

“We did this to avoid transportation and ecological costs as well as CO2 consumption.”

However, certain materials are being sourced from Belgian companies, which according to Vercauteren Drubbel, are “manufactured in Dubai”.

The stakeholders involved in the Belgium Pavilion include Dubai-based Assent as the steel subcontractor.

Citiscape, a Belgian firm, is the landscape subcontractor, and Macline is the fit-out subcontractor.

The pavilion has a wooden façade. Vercauteren Drubbel says that the wood was procured from Italian firm BODINO SR. Abu Dhabi-based Centro is the façade subcontractor.

“The green façades need water, and that is why it is essential that the pavilion provides an autonomous water supply for these plants,” Vercauteren Drubbel adds.

The Belgium Pavilion will also use renewable energy that will be sourced through solar panels.

Cement and concrete for the pavilion is supplied by Readymix Beton; glass is by AGC Glass and HALIO International. The curtain wall is supplied by Reynaers Aluminium and partitions by Knauf, with the food and beverage designer and subcontractor being Creneau International. Real CGR is the business continuity, compliance, and governance consultant

Visiting in 2021

In October 2021, when visitors come to the Belgium Pavilion they can discover the mobility of the future on land, waters, as well as in space, while they can also enjoy its renowned Belgian chocolates.

“Belgium will be there and will not miss the opportunity to contribute to make the World Expo a success story.

“We think Expo 2020 Dubai will be the place to be in 2021.”

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