Expo City Dubai building wellness into its foundations
When it closed its doors to the public after an incredible six-month run, many, especially in the UAE, did not want Expo 2020 Dubai to end.
Now, the doors are open again and the public are back as the inspiring project begins its next chapter as Expo City Dubai.
And, it’s a chapter that is being written with wellness at its core, with the sprawling site becoming the first in the region to register for the WELL Community Standard pilot, a global benchmark for community wellbeing.
Nadimeh Mehra, director of advocacy for Expo City Dubai, sat down with mentl’s founder Scott Armstrong for a fireside chat at the inaugural Future of Health, Wellness & Innovation Forum, held at Dubai’s Museum of the Future.
The conference, inspired by the mission of Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, was staged as a collaboration between Dubai Land Department and Delos, the creators of the WELL certification programme. Delos founder and CEO Paul Scialla attended the event and signed an MoU with the DLD.
During their conversation Nadimeh outlined to Scott exactly why Expo City Dubai is building wellness into its foundations.
What is Expo City Dubai, and how was it born out of the World Expo?
So, when we were working on the master plan and an urban plan for Expo 2020 it was with the thought that we need to repurpose 80 percent of everything that we build for the event. But, that wasn’t enough, we needed to look at that sustainable development from an ongoing perspective.
We looked at the vision of His Highness and all the work that has been done, we’ve seen it in the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, and some of the best urban planners in the world worked with us on developing a community. I underline that word because community is where it all starts. It’s a community that brings together bright minds to continue to innovate. You saw it at Expo 2020 Dubai, which was the largest post-pandemic in-person gathering ever.
I ask myself that question a lot, what is Expo City Dubai and what are we doing there?
The short answer is that we are the future of the Expo continuing from an intangible perspective, so a lot of the thought leadership that was raised in Expo 2020 we’re moving that forward. We are a mixed-use development so we have commercial buildings, we have residential plans. It goes back to the 2040 urban plan is for a city with 20-minute connectivity, the Metro that was built for Expo is still there and the city is open to the public.
We have Fan City for the World Cup that is happening right now, we have education programs and school visits, we’ve got the theme pavilions that are open and operational right now for visitors and anybody can visit the site. It’s non-ticketed, it’s open to the public and it’s just beautiful. We have the 5km walking and running track, we have the 10km cycle track and we’ve already hosted several sports events during the Dubai Fitness Challenge.
Well, I know my seven year old girl is looking forward to going to your winter celebration that going on there now. So how is Expo City Dubai human-centric, and how was health, well-being and sustainability incorporated into the physical infrastructure of Expo City?
That’s a great question Scott and I think what it boiled down to for us was that we were developing the physical site. So we have have 123 buildings that are LEED certified, they are all gold and seven of them a LEED platinum, so the physical aspect and the sustainability approach was looked after. But, I like what Paul Scialla said earlier, when we look at sustainability we need to look at the sustainability of individuals as well. So, we registered as the first WELL-certified Community Pilot in the region.
Expo City Dubai, as one of the five zones in the 2040 masterplan, will be a WELL-certified community and we are working towards that now. So, what does that involve? It involves making sure all the places people live in have all the aspects they need, such as green spaces, it’s about ensuring work life balance, it’s about ensuring that people are not stuck in traffic for hours on end. For example we’ve pedestrianized the entire development, the core central business district of Expo City Dubai is all pedestrianized.
That brought to mind micro-mobility and how do we tackle that as a challenge, As urban planners start looking at sustainable growth and looking at how people live in an environment these challenges are something that need to be looked at. How do people commute, especially when six months of the year, it’s quite hot here, it’s not a simple walk. We need to ensure we cover all those things for the residents, the visitors, the people who come and interact with Expo City Dubai.
Why did Expo City Dubai make the decision to become the first community in the Middle East to register for the WELL Community Standard Pilot?
Seven years ago, when we were sitting with the urban planners and trying to determine what kind of city we want to develop as the next chapter of Expo City Dubai we looked at the building through that human lens.
The 80 percent that I was talking about that was repurposed was not only infrastructure but the buildings themselves, and those are low-rise campus-style buildings. There are mature trees already placed, so the sense of wellness means I love walking there, I’m grateful that I work there. The beautiful music that was playing during Expo is still playing, the water feature etc,
We started looking at how do we build so that it is a place that people want to live, a place where they want to work, their children to go to school. But this was all pre-pandemic and then the pandemic happened.
We went back and we had some tenants who had already signed up pre-pandemic, and one of the most interesting discussions I had was with the CEO of companies who said ‘we haven’t changed our space requirements for what we require, what we’ve changed our internal spaces to ensure that the WELL factor is there for our employees.
Corporations are starting to click into that mindset of their employees’ wellness is very important. We had all of this in place pre-pandemic, we were in talks with Delos and I remember meeting with Paul some time ago, and we thought because of the checklist of what you need – well we’ve got it all. So, we went ahead, and that was the natural progression.
The 10 factors of a WELL Community
Do you think we’ve crossed the point where wellness is now no longer a nice to have for organizations, but it’s in the fundamental to this sustainable future the board?
So, we’re taking a bit of a departure, but if you look at quiet quitting and what is happening, people have realized that the time spent indoors, I learned so scary facts this morning, 97 percent of our lives are spent indoors. If you are not able to provide a work environment to your employees you are likely to see that quiet quitting happen very, very quickly.
When we talk to companies right now that are interested to move to Expo City Dubai, the reason they are looking to move is because their employees will be in a place that has a park next door, that might have a museum next door, that will have a concert happening that evening, that their kids can walk to school, it’s that integrated community again.
We have a checklist with the corporates, it’s like an interview now, they ask ‘what do you have for our employees that will benefit them if we move here?’ which is beautiful to see. So yes, absolutely, it’s becoming more and more prevalent.
Expo City Dubai will host COP28 next year. How is it prioritising sustainability and leveraging its platform and experience ahead of the Climate Summit?
We build a world-class event space and that event space will continue to attract world-class events like COP28. We work very closely with the organisers to host them in our space. Sustainability is also key to Expo City Dubai, we have a net zero journey that we are on as well. We work very closely with our tenants to ensure that is part of their remit as well, and sustainability continues to be something that we continue to work on. Terra, the pavilion, is open and is still about sustainability, and we bring kids constantly, students, to come and learn more about sustainability. It was a natural fit to host COP28 at Expo City Dubai.
You can watch all the speakers by clicking here.
Expo City Dubai Facts & Figures:
- Expo City Dubai is the pioneering legacy of Expo 2020 Dubai, which has been at the core of planning since the very beginning
- Retaining 80 per cent of the Expo-built infrastructure, Expo City Dubai is part of the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan
- A clean, green, innovation-driven, human-centric city of the future, Expo City Dubai is designed as a blueprint for ‘green’ urban planning, galvanising action on its journey to net zero
- Expo City Dubai is based on a deep-rooted belief that a broad coalition of people, working together, can propel human progress to help create a more sustainable and dignified future for all
- With an array of diverse attractions and packed with educational, cultural and entertainment offerings, the comprehensive city – the largest in the world to be fully covered by a 5G-enabled network – will feature offices, leisure facilities, dining options, event venues, exercise grounds, and more
- Expo City Dubai retains a number of Expo 2020 Dubai’s flagship pavilions and entertainment and technology offerings, while also carrying forward the event’s magic, energy and excitement
- Three of Expo 2020’s most iconic attractions, remain:
- the Garden in the Sky observation tower
- Al Wasl Plaza
- the Surreal water feature
- Alif – The Mobility Pavilion and Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion live on as interactive educational experiences
- Visitors can explore the Vision Pavilion, honouring the life and vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, as well as the Women’s Pavilion, spotlighting the historical contributions of women and the path to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment
- Mission Possible – The Opportunity Pavilion will later become the Expo 2020 Dubai Museum – a new addition celebrating the success of the six-month event
- Visitors will also be able to explore the falcon-inspired UAE Pavilion and the award-winning Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Pavilion
- Details of several other Country Pavilions will be announced in the coming months
- New ‘Stories of Nations’ exhibitions – one each in the Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability Districts – will bring to life the event-time experiences of those districts and the countries located there
Clean and green
- Expo City Dubai will retain 80 per cent of the Expo 2020 built infrastructure, including 123 LEED-certified buildings and eight CEEQUAL-certified projects, each achieving the top ‘Excellent’ rating, epitomising the highest levels of sustainable design, construction and operations
- With a low-rise ‘campus’ feel, the city’s districts are fully pedestrianised, improving safety and air quality
- The city features 10 km of cycling tracks, a 5 km running track and 45,000 sqm of parks and gardens
- It is the first community in the region to be registered under the WELL Community Standard pilot
- Expo City Dubai retainsExpo 2020’spioneering urban development initiatives, such as the world’s largest installation of MindSphere – Siemens’ cloud technology platform that uses smart metering and sensors to monitor energy consumption and efficiency of power, light, water and climate conditioning systems