Singapore Pavilion, Expo 2020, Dubai

WOHA’s Singapore Pavilion created a self-sustaining oasis in Dubai

Singapore Pavilion, Expo 2020, Dubai

WOHA’s Singapore Pavilion created a self-sustaining oasis in Dubai

At Expo 2020 Dubai, WOHA’s Singapore Pavilion was a prototype for a lush and sustainable built environment of the future. This three-dimensional tropical garden functioned as a self-sustaining ecosystem.

The verdant pavilion operated for the six-month duration of Expo 2020 with net-zero energy and water consumption. It demonstrated how architecture and nature-based systems can coexist.

WOHA collaborated closely with Singapore-based landscape architecture firm Salad Dressing to create the pavilion, which was themed ‘Nature. Nurture. Future.’

Commissioned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, it embodied Singapore’s garden-centric narrative and illuminated the city state’s ongoing transformation into a futuristic, biophilic urban haven.


The lean steel structure of the pavilion cantilevered over a ground-level garden and phytoremediation pond.
© Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres / Singapore Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai

At ground level, a dense garden drew visitors into the open pavilion. Three plant-draped cones sat beneath a broad roof canopy of photovoltaic (PV) panels. An upper floor level cantilevered from the steel structure of the cones. A walkway and plants were suspended from the upper floor.


The meandering Canopy Walk was suspended from the upper floor and connected three large cone-shaped exhibition spaces.
© Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres

Within the cones, visitors could experience displays of Singapore’s rainforest tree species, native orchids, and urban planning.

The pavilion contained 80,000 plants of more than 170 types, creating an environment of dense greenery. The atmosphere was that of a tropical oasis in the desert.


Kinetic sculptures resembling winged seeds were installed within the Rainforest Cone alongside winding elevated walkways.
© Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres / Singapore Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai

Phua Hong Wei, a Director at WOHA, tells Ecogradia: “We kept the architectural finishing light and simple to give focus to nature. It was essentially an open structure, with greenery as the main palette.”

The visitor’s experience culminated on the upper level, where an amphitheatre hosted talks and film screenings, and elements of Singapore’s culture were promoted through product displays.

“The steel structure of the pavilion was designed to be quickly erected and easily dismantled,” says Hong Wei. The architects worked with engineering firm Web Structures to optimise the structure.


Visitors could explore Singapore through event programmes at the Sky Market on the upper floor, where an amphitheatre sunk into one of the cones.
© Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres
A self-sustaining oasis in the desert

A combination of technology and passive design strategies allowed the Singapore Pavilion to achieve its net-zero energy and water targets. The building did not draw any power from the grid or water from municipal sources.


The Canopy Walk connecting the cones offered various vantage points of the greenery, which reflected the natural heritage of Singapore.
© Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres

The pavilion was powered entirely by the 517 PV panels on its roof, which generated 155 MWh of energy. This was enough to enable the running of a water desalination system in addition to other electrical components.

Ground water was desalinated on site at the rate of 40 m3 per day. The treated water kept the vegetation green by feeding into an auto irrigation system. It also enabled the use of 51 mist fans.


Cooling mist fans contributed to the creation of a microclimate that provided respite from the heat of Dubai.
© Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres

The Canopy Walk circumscribed the site beneath the hanging garden, with mist fans mediating the dry desert climate.
© Quentin Sim / Singapore Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai

In concert with the evapotranspiration of the gardens and water feature, the evaporative cooling effect of the mist fans helped to lower the ambient temperature within the pavilion by 6-to-10 degrees Celsius.

Passive design strategies contributed to a comfortable environment for visitors and the vegetation. The overhanging roof provided shade and the open floor plan allowed for both natural lighting and cross ventilation.


The open pavilion was estimated to have used around 70% less energy than an enclosed and air-conditioned space of an equivalent floor area.
© Quentin Sim / Singapore Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai
Ensuring plant and ecosystem health

While shade was crucial for the survival of tropical plant species in the hot, dry climate of Dubai, strategies were needed to provide adequate light for plant survival.


Natural daylight and grow lights were among the strategies for keeping plants healthy in the dense forest-like environment.
© Quentin Sim / Singapore Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai

Grow lights were powered by clean energy produced by the PV panels. Additionally, 18 sun pipes transferred solar energy through the roof without the associated heat.


The Flower Cone showcased native and ornamental orchids, as well as propagation instruments, in an intimate exhibition space.
© Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres

Three robots monitored the health of the greenery. They traversed the green walls collecting data and inspecting the plants to enable adequate conditions to be maintained through the calibration of irrigation and grow-light settings. The robots communicated with visitors to encourage the sense that nature needs nurturing.


One of the three futuristic monitoring robots that ran along rails attached to the outside of the cones collecting data via cameras and sensors.
© Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres

Besides providing visitors with an impactful sensory experience, the plants reduced solar heat gain and sequestered greenhouse gases. They also boosted oxygen production and provided a nurturing habitat for birds and insects. Birds nested in the pavilion and two chicks hatched inside.


The robots communicated with visitors by displaying ‘happiness’ if plants were thriving, or ‘sadness’ if they were not.
© Quentin Sim / Singapore Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai

The outcome demonstrated the potential of designing with nature. It showed that self-sufficient buildings, vegetation, and renewable systems can coexist. Architecture can be developed in tandem with ecosystems.

The Singapore Pavilion was a prototype showcasing strategies that could be scaled up from buildings to cities. It harnessed the power of natural systems to create resilient solutions for the present and future.


Artist Brian Gothong Tan created a cinematic experience inside the City Cone, depicting the challenges of urbanisation and Singapore’s solutions.
© Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres

It also demonstrated minimal impact through its end-of-life scenario. At the expo’s conclusion, the steel components were recycled locally and the PV panels and mechanical equipment were repurposed locally.

The pots from the green wall system were returned to the local landscape supplier, and trees were transplanted. The mist fans were taken back to Singapore and given a second life at WOHA’s project Pan Pacific Orchard.

The design was recognised in Singapore with a President*s Design Award 2023 for its innovative, sustainable design. At the Expo 2020 Awards, the Bureau International des Expositions recognised it with the Gold Award in the Architecture & Landscape category.

To learn more about WOHA’s sustainable design strategies, listen to (Re)Imagining the city and (Re)Defining beauty on Ecogradia.

A Novel project is innovative in one or two ways, say, material use, passive design, community engagement, etc. Performance, here, might be discussed in quantitative or qualitative ways.

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Fact Sheet

Disclaimer: Location provided as reference only. Exact site may differ.

Under the Köppen climate classification, these are ‘B’ climate types. Dry climates cover about a quarter of Earth’s land surface, found mainly in the 15-30° latitude belt in both hemispheres. They exhibit low precipitation, great variability in precipitation from year to year, low relative humidity, high evaporation rates, clear skies, and intense solar radiation.

Green space
Over 50% of site area

Vegetation
80,000 plants of more than 170 varieties

Solar installation
517 PV panels generating 155 MWh

Ground water desalination
40 m3 per day

Perceived ‘indoor’ temperature
Lowered by 6-to-10 degrees Celsius

Carbon sequestered over 6 months
61 tonnes

Operational impact
Net-zero energy and water use

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