Es Devlin OBE to design UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

15th October 2018

Award-winning British artist Es Devlin OBE is set to design the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. The Pavilion will be the centrepiece of the UK’s presence at the Expo – highlighting UK expertise in artificial intelligence and the space sector.

The UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai will be produced by the London and Dubai based global brand experience agency Avantgarde. The Department for International Trade will lead the UK government’s presence with cross-government support.

The Expo will be visited by an estimated 25 million people in the 6 months from October 2020 to April 2021. World Expos offer the UK a significant opportunity to communicate directly with millions of people, strengthening British soft power and enhancing the UK’s reputation on a global stage.

Expos also offer more tangible benefits – they give the UK a platform to attract investment, grow trade, increase tourism and encourage people to study in the UK.

Es Devlin OBE is known for creating stunning large-scale performative sculptures that fuse technology and poetry, including the interactive Fifth Lion sculpture installed in Trafalgar Square. Her dramatic design for the UK Pavilion is an illuminated sculptural message to which each of the Expo’s anticipated 25 million visitors will be invited to contribute.

Explaining her inspiration for the project and what she hopes it will achieve, Es Devlin OBE said:

The idea draws directly on one of Stephen Hawking’s final projects, ‘Breakthrough Message’, a global competition that Hawking and his colleagues conceived in 2015 inviting people worldwide to consider what message we would communicate to express ourselves as a planet, should we one day encounter other advanced civilisations in Space.

What if the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 became a place where visitors from all over the world chose to take part in a collective global project that showcases British expertise in AI technologies and poetry while transcending national identities.

International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP said:

The quality of design proposals we received for the UK Pavilion were testament to the UK’s world leading creative talent and I’m confident that Es Devlin OBE and the team will help us take advantage of this unique opportunity to showcase the very best of British to a truly global audience.

Over 6 months, my international economic department will help the UK connect with more than 25 million Expo visitors – that’s 25 million potential buyers for our products, partners for our firms, tourists for our cities and students for our universities.

This announcement follows a competitive tender process which saw a number of leading designers and firms form consortia to bid for the multi-million-pound contract, and we are grateful for their submissions.

Najeeb Mohammed Al-Ali, Executive Director, Dubai Expo 2020 Bureau said:

At Expo 2020 Dubai, our focus on empowering individuals and communities to create opportunities that help shape a better future drives everything we do.

The UK Pavilion will be an intriguing platform for people to learn, have fun and work together to discover innovations and explore new frontiers in areas including space and Artificial Intelligence – echoing Expo 2020’s theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’.

We look forward to seeing more compelling pavilion designs and themes revealed by other participating nations as we continue our countdown to Expo 2020.

Devlin and Avantgarde will join forces with Manchester-based structural engineers Atelier One and sustainability experts Atelier Ten.

Further information

The Department for International Trade (DIT) secures UK and global prosperity by promoting and financing international trade and investment, and championing free trade. We are an international economic department, responsible for:

  • bringing together policy, promotion and financial expertise to break down barriers to trade and investment, and help businesses succeed
  • delivering a new trade policy framework for the UK as we leave the EU
  • promoting British trade and investment across the world
  • building the global appetite for British goods and services

Es Devlin OBE

Award-winning artist and designer Es Devlin is known worldwide for her sculptural installations which are often created as environments for concerts, opera, dance and theatre. Her luminous fluorescent red Fifth Lion sculpture roared A.I. generated collective poetry to crowds in Trafalgar Square during London Design Festival last week. The Singing Tree, her choral collective carol installation at the V&A, fused machine-learning technology with sound and light, and was viewed by over ten million visitors during Christmas 2017. Her Mirrormaze generated queues around the block in Peckham in 2016

The visionary designer collaborated with theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli on an interpretation of The Order of Time read by Benedict Cumberbatch at the legendary rooftop art space, BOLD Tendencies in Peckham in September 2018 and has conceived touring stage sculptures for Beyonce, Kanye West, U2, Adele, The Royal Opera House and The National Theatre as well as designing the London Olympic Closing Ceremony.

Her practice was the subject of a major 2017 Netflix documentary: Abstract: The Art of Design, and she is the winner of numerous awards including three Olivier Awards, the 2017 London Design Medal, a UAL fellowship and an OBE.

Studio Es Devlin

Studio Es Devlin is a London-based predominantly female design practice that works closely with artist and designer Es Devlin to develop and produce artworks, installations and touring stage sculptures for opera, dance, concerts and theatre. The majority of the team trained as architects and many have worked in other fields including music, film, fashion, interiors and coding. Members of the studio regularly give talks and work as tutors for a number of educational institutions including UCL and the RCA. The studio also hosts educational workshops and events in order to expose young people to the relevance of the creative arts for a contemporary, global Britain.


The global brand experience agency Avantgarde has been commissioned as the general design contractor by the Department of International Trade. The teams at Avantgarde will be responsible for the coordination, and overall creative production across interactive, exhibition and digital experiences, demonstrating their multidisciplinary capabilities.

Avantgarde is a global brand experience agency which advises brands strategically with 500 experts in ten countries. Avantgarde played a pivotal role in Astana EXPO 2017, turning the Astana Contemporary Art Centre and the Energy Best Practices Area into engaging and innovative experiences. The agency is looking forward in bringing all its interdisciplinary expertise and EXPO experience together to deliver a powerful statement for the UK.

The team:

Keith Morgan MCIAT | MAPM Executive Architect, Managing Director at Veretec

Keith is the Managing Director of Veretec and is passionate about the project delivery of exceptional quality design buildings in a variety of building types in both the UK and internationally. He has led Veretec to win the AJ100 Executive Architect of the Year award for two consecutive years in 2016 and 2017. His understanding and technical flair, together with a strongly focused collaborative approach, has ensured that Keith has developed excellent relationships in the industry, and worked effectively with a wide range of well-known architects and designers.

Keith’s successful track record of adding value and delivering complex projects incorporates innovative solutions for unique projects. His experience with award winning projects includes 3 Stirling Prize profiled projects:

  • 2014 Stirling Finalist: O’Donnell+Tuomey: LSE Saw Swee Hock Student Centre
  • 2011 Stirling Finalist: Allford Hall Monaghan Morris: Angel Building
  • 2011 Stirling Shortlist: Hopkins: Arc Bury St Edmunds

Patrick Bellew RDI | FREng | CEng | FCIBSE | FEI | HonFRIBA | FRSA Environmental Engineer, Director at Atelier Ten

Patrick is the founding director of Atelier Ten, he is one of the UK’s Royal Designers and is a Chartered Building Services Engineer with more than 30 years’ experience in the design of high performance buildings and systems. With extensive experience in the integration of environmental and building systems with architecture, Patrick has particular expertise in thermal mass energy storage technologies, environmental building design and high efficiency building conditioning systems.

Atelier Ten have pioneered numerous innovations in the built environment and have 10 offices worldwide, all focused on the delivery of high-performance buildings, including 2 previous UK Pavilions, by Thomas Heatherwick for 2010 Shanghai World Expo, and by Asif Kahn for 2017 Astana Expo. Patrick taught a core environmental design course on the M.Arch program at the Yale University School of Architecture from 2000 to 2008 and has led 4 Advanced Design Studios as the Eero Saarinen Visiting Professor between 2010 to 2017.

Patrick was one of the original group who founded the UK-Green Building Council in 2006 and was a member of the Executive Board from 2006 to 2010 when the organisation became a registered charity. Between 2010 to 2017, he served on the Trustee Board.

Professor Neil Thomas MBE | RDI | FRSA | HonFRIBA | CEng | FIStructE Structural Engineer, Director at Atelier One

Neil Thomas is the founder and director of Atelier One, which has been described as ‘the most innovative Engineering Practice in the UK’. Atelier One has gained an international reputation as a Structural Engineering Practice specializing in challenging projects. Collaborations with Architects, Artists, and Designers have resulted in many interesting built projects such as Gardens by the Bay with Grant Associates & Wilkinson Eyre, London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Olympics Opening Ceremonies and the Cloud Gate with Anish Kapoor.

Neil holds a number of high profile posts in the UK and US educational service, most recently being a visiting professor to Yale and MIT. In 2014 Neil was elected Royal Designer for Industry (RDI), an Honorary RIBA Fellowship for both the excellence and the inventiveness of his contribution to Architecture over the past 25 years and in 2015 was awarded Fellow of the Institute of Structural Engineers. In 2016 Neil was honoured with an MBE on the Queen’s 90th Birthday for contributions to architecture, design and engineering.

UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai: shortlisted design entries (in alphabetical order)

  • BDP
  • Mangera Yvars Architects
  • Paul Cocksedge Studio
  • Steven Chilton Architects
  • Tonkin Liu

Sponsorship opportunities

Contact for more on partnership and sponsorship opportunities for the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.


The 7 co-funding Whitehall Departments are the:

  • Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy; Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Department for International Trade
  • Department for International Development; Department for Transport
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office
15th October 2018