IDI's CEO Charlotte Barker was invited as a guest speaker by Menasa, an Emirati Design Platform to take part in a discussion 'The Power of Storytelling in Design' at Dubai Expo2020. She tells us about her experience.
I’ve returned from the future. It gave me hope.
Covering 4.5 square kilometres, Expo2020 is a sprawling, purpose built site of streets lined with dramatic architecture and immersive technology, every country represented in a pavillion that brings the motto of Expo to life - ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’.
I started my Expo journey with the UN Pavilion ‘Mission Possible’, which provides an urgent reminder of the UN Sustainable Development Goals brought to life through the stories of 3 inspirational people - 2 out of 3 of which are women. This sets the tone for the whole Expo experience - women are quietly and carefully championed throughout, ensuring an equity that has been missing from public discourse for so long. I later understood that this was all intentional, and that the team behind Expo are a majority women. This seemingly small gesture has the power to redress the balance.
Every aspect of life walks side by side at Expo2020. Every age, every ability, every religion, every race; and the entire site has been designed to allow this to happen. It’s a true example of inclusive design, quietly but determinedly ensuring every single person is able to use all corners of Expo and enjoy the same experience. It was clear that we have a responsibility as designers to work with purpose and intent to ensure the success of our places, spaces and services. Everything is sustainable - all materials on site are compostable, packaging is biodegradable or recycled. Buggies and trains are electric, the site is designed to be explored on foot, scooter or bike.
A warm welcome
Every pavillion provides a warm welcome, not least the Irish pavillion where I had the privilege of meeting the Commissioner General and former Ambassador to the UAE Pat Hennessy and his team. Seeing the work on display of talented Irish designers and makers curated by the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland and hearing the stories of those products, as well as viewing an impressive display of Irish architecture practices made me proud to be able to represent Ireland.
Other pavillions too had a warmth and hospitality, from the cardamom-infused coffee from Sameem, telling the stories and cultures of the Emirates region, to aerial artists inviting us to Australia before being taken on an immersive A/V journey through the stars and landscapes of the country with incredible aboriginal storytelling. Every country taught me something new, not just focusing on the hackneyed tales we would expect, but instead demonstrating progress, advancement and pride.
One such surprise was Spain, whose pavilion demonstrated its commitment to sustainability and progress with dynamic sculpture, interactive displays and futuristic tech creating an immersive and impressive learning experience. Spanish advancements include the Nuez Lounge Bio, a chair made from an entirely sustainable bioplastic derived from living micro organisms, while the Zeleros hyper loop gave a glimpse of the future of high speed, intercity zero emission travel. Not a castanet nor plate of paella in sight.
Collecting stamps as I went in my Expo ‘passport’ I visited Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Estonia, Ghana, Brazil, Vietnam, France and more over the course of 2 days, which simply isn’t enough time.
I finished my Expo journey in the Zaha Hadid Alif Mobility pavillion. No words have the power to describe this experience. Rising in a pitch black room sized elevator to a ceiling of stars, my journey wound down the slopes of the building through immersive light, sound and sculptural installations, learning about our near to far future and understanding what might be in a society that places wellbeing and happiness at the heart of its advances.
I was invited to Dubai as a guest of Menasa, an Emirati design platform created for Expo2020. Menasa has brought together designers and makers from different countries and disciplines, connecting Emirati artisans who are keeping the traditional skills of the region alive with designers embracing new technologies and perspectives, to create stunning new expressions. The warmth and passion of the Menasa team led by Dr Hayat Shamsuddin is infectious, as they seek to develop an arts platform in a region that has grown out of the desert and is only 50 years old. They are starting new stories, creating new connections, and firmly stating their intent through exceptional quality and creativity.
As a participant in a panel discussion with global guests (both physically and virtually) I had the opportunity to highlight some wonderful Irish designers including award winners Jill&Gill, Emer Roberts and McMahon architects, demonstrating the breadth and impact of Irish design. It also was a chance to speak about DesignOpp and WhyDesign, both vitally important IDI initiatives that demonstrate the power of design to affect positive change.
An inclusive world
Expo provides a lived experience of a world that might be. Where cultures live contentedly side by side, respectful and embracing, and gender, age or ability are not barriers to progress. Set against a backdrop of current events and a post pandemic world, it’s with sadness and hope that I look to the future and take my personal responsibility for doing what I can to make our world a better place. It's vital we understand the fundamental responsibilities we have as human beings to protect, nurture and cultivate our world.