When is a door more than a humble door? At Expo 2020, in the hands of an architect as revered as Asif Khan, the answer is three spellbinding entry portals, where doors becomes metaphors, gateways and transitional points that are equal parts design genius and philosophical back story.
Celebrated surrealist Khan – the British architectural mastermind behind Expo 2020’s Public Realm – has conceptualised and created what will be the first sight to greet millions of visitors from around the world as they arrive at the 4.38 sqkm site.
Khan was previously known for works that include the darkest building in the world, and MegaFaces, a pavilion with a kinetic façade at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics that used 11,000 full colour LEDs to recreate the faces of visitors to the building.
Now, however, comes what Khan describes as his “best work” yet. He presents three stark, stunning, perception-shifting entryways to the expansive event site that will create different experiences depending on the time of day, inventively playing with light and myriad shadows.
Expo 2020’s entry portals – one positioned at the entrance to each of the three Thematic Districts (Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability) – are the gateways to The World’s Greatest Show, the largest event ever to be held in the Arab World.
Each portal has a set of two 21-metre-tall doors – and when opened each morning, they will represent a symbolic act of Expo 2020’s doors being literally thrown open to the world. When visitors leave, those same doors will lead back to the ‘regular’ world, enticing visitors to return to Expo 2020 another day.
Inspired by Arabic mashrabiya architecture, the portals comprise a structure that is at once a series of two-dimensional planes as well as a three-dimensional geometric configuration – resembling the Expo 2020 logo when viewed from the correct angle. The transcendental play on light, shadow and space is meant to convey to visitors that the world within the Expo gates is entirely different to that outside. The time before you enter the site is your past, while the time at Expo 2020 is your – and, in a broader sense, everyone’s – future, brimming with exciting anticipation.
The three portals – whose installation was completed in December 2019 – will be complemented by a different entry plaza with themed flora and features to further welcome visitors.
The portals are as remarkable from an engineering standpoint as they are visually. Using a unique process, high-grade carbon fibre and resin was spun into strands so fine they could circumnavigate the world 5,000 times over if laid end to end. Yet those strands retain the structural strength to support a four-wheel-drive vehicle (should the need arise).
Nothing of their ilk has ever been seen in the world before, making them a fitting point of first contact for visitors to Expo 2020 – a unique celebration of art, culture, music, architecture, technology and a once-in-a-lifetime showcase of human brilliance and achievement.