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Expo 2020’s Brazil Pavilion brings the Amazon basin to the Arabian Desert

Soak It In

Expo 2020’s Brazil Pavilion brings the Amazon basin to the Arabian Desert

For those on the ground at Expo 2020 Dubai looking to transport themselves to a far-flung tropical locale without leaving a once-barren expanse of desert abutting the Persian Gulf, the Brazil Pavilion has got you covered. Just don’t forget to bring aquatic footwear.

Located in the Sustainability District between the Sweden Pavilion and the Azerbaijan Pavilion, the Brazil Pavilion is one of the more low-key structures on the Expo 2020 grounds, architecturally speaking. Comprised of a nearly 25,000-square-foot white textile cube that’s as large as it is enigmatic, the pavilion itself doesn’t possess the rubberneck-inducing qualities of some of its flashier neighbors (during the daylight hours, at least). But that’s the point: the minimalist pavilion, realized with a weather-resistant sheer translucent fabric created specifically for the expo and wrapped tightly around a boxy structural frame, serves as an oversized canvas for the wholly immersive experience unfolding within.

a person standing in a pool of water looks up at a digital projection
(Joana Franca)

“Immersive” is a word casually tossed around World Expositions as each national pavilion puffs itself up to offer visitors the most authentic taste—both figuratively and also literally—of their respective homelands. But Cactus, a multidisciplinary experiential design studio with offices in Brooklyn and Rio de Janeiro, has turned the promo-educational qualities of country pavilion-bound exhibition design up several notches to create a mesmeric, 360-degree sensory experience that invites visitors to hitch up their pants and wade across a riparian landscape within the Amazon basin. The journey really involves getting one’s feet wet as guests traverse the hangar-like space across a shallow reflective pool that alludes to “Brazilian rivers and the country’s vast water resources,” according to the South American country’s official Expo 2020 website. (As an added bonus, the Brazil Pavilion acts as a popular cool-off spot during brutally hot Dubai afternoons.)

With visitors immersed ankle-deep in water or ensconced in hammocks dangling over the pavilion-pond, over 140 projectors and media servers covertly integrated into the structure work together to bring the “digital canvas” that is the pavilion to life with over 60,000 square feet of video footage depicting the Brazilian rainforest. Along with the visual projections that stretch from the floor to the ceiling, recreated sounds and scents of Brazilian biomes complete a rather heady experience. As for areas that don’t require getting one’s feet wet, the Brazil Pavilion’s cafe and gift shop are located just off the pool as is a “dry” exhibition area featuring displays that further detail the vast domestic and global importance of Brazil’s waterways while also showcasing various homegrown innovations and, of course, brands. And, like other country pavilions, the Brazil Pavilion hosts regular stage shows.

digital projects spelling out "brasil" surround an indoor pool of water
(Joana Franca)

As the sun sets, the unadorned exterior of the pavilion is brought to life as a “luminous cube of dazzling images, traversing through Brazil’s lush and diverse landscapes, unveiling another must-see harmonizing digital display of culture and entertainment,” per a press announcement from Cactus, which describes itself as a “first-of-its class hybrid” spanning brand strategy, digital technology and architecture to create “work at the convergence of physical-meets-digital.”

Joining Cactus, which served as lead exhibition designer, to create the Brazil Pavilion were a trio of Brazil-based architectural firms including MMBB.BEN-AVID, JPQ.ARQ. The French Serge Ferrari Group aided the larger design team in developing the bespoke textile membrane that sheaths the monolithic box.

“We want the world to see and feel the beauty and intricacies of the country we call home,” explained Marcelo Pontes, head of the architecture division at Cactus, in a statement. “The process of achieving seamless UX requires good design at its core. There were many technical roadblocks, including regional weather, sand, and heat, that made this project more difficult than anything else we have taken on before. Unlike traditional immersive experiences which only focus on projection mapping inside spaces, we were designing for the entire exterior of the exhibit as well.”

people walk across a shallow pool of water in a white fabric-sheathed structure
(Joana Franca)

“Our job is to turn lofty, complex ideas into reality, to optimize and accelerate the convergence of digital and physical experiences at an architectural scale,” added Lucas Werthein, head of technology for Cactus. “This project is a culmination of everything we love doing and believe we need more of in this world—getting people out of their phones and into their lives, experiencing wonder in a way that is memorable, sensory, and highly entertaining and engaging.”

It’s worth noting that while thousands of travelers have been grounded and a multitude of large gatherings, including a host of normally jam-packed New Year’s Eve festivities, across the globe have been nixed due to the omicron variant wave, the grounds of Expo 2020 Dubai are still very much open and its celebrations planned for December 31 are still a go at the time of writing. (Two forthcoming concerts, however, have been postponed due to “unforeseen circumstances.”) For those who don’t plan on sauntering barefoot or in sandals through the Amazon rainforest via the UAE in the coming months, Expo 2020, which runs through March 31 of next year, can also be experienced virtually.

You can read Giovanni Comoglio’s full review of Expo 2020 Dubai for AN here.

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