The Iran Pavilion project at Dubai Expo 2020: a spotlight to the Iranian heritage

The Iran Pavilion project at Dubai Expo 2020: a spotlight to the Iranian heritage

09/09/2022 By Mohammad Shirkavand and Mobina Shirkavand 

Dubai expo 2020 is a global event with a socio-cultural approach that opens a worldwide window for countries to reinvent their heritage in a scene where world citizens are the audience. Iran, a country with a written history of more than 3000 years and narrations from epics and love stories, has preserved its identity. The identity is best expressed through authentic Persian costumes, traditions and textile patterns  which have been put on display for decades at international events. Love stories, epics, and historical narrations have been passed on to us over millennia. Such tale, One Thousand and One Nights, is the architectural backdrop against which the Iran Pavilion was built.

Iran Pavilion Design Competition at Expo 2020 Dubai

Holding a competition between designers, architects, and architectural design offices all over the country was the first step for the Iran Pavilion construction. The selected design was announced in June 2019.

The SHIFT Process Practice Studio won the Iranian Pavilion Design Competition[1] to create an inviting atmosphere for the Iran Pavilion. The design was selected according to the spatial structure of Iranian architecture while presenting a suitable and appropriate plan for the country to attend the universal event, adjusted with the Iranian slogan in the expo, Iran, an ancient and enduring civilization, diversity of ethnic groups, and hosts of nations.

Demonstrating the theme of Expo 2020, « Connecting Minds, Creating the Future, » the distinctive feature of their design was the movable boxes in Iran, each was the halves of Dubai boxes that were to be built in different cities of the country, be transferred among them as well.

This idea could connect the Iranians in any circumstances to visitors and diverse nationalities who go to the Dubai Pavilion online, creating interaction opportunities between people and cultures in a practicable process. Ultimately, the blue boxes implemented in Dubai were to be returned to Iran to combine their halves in different cities, creating new cultural spaces. Unfortunately, the plan was not fully implemented due to abnormal conditions such as the pandemic, sanctions, and restrictions on implementation, so today, we only witness boxes made in Dubai.

Iran Pavilion Design Concept at Expo 2020 Dubai

Iran is an ancient land full of tangible cultural-historical heritage such as antique artifacts and objects and intangible cultural heritage such as old myths and stories. The Iran Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai has also benefited such a capacity; the design has been inspired by the main character and the female (Sheherazad) narrator of the One Thousand- and One-Nights tales (a famous collection of Middle Eastern stories). Somehow, Sheherazad is a symbol of storytelling in Iranian literature and even in world literature.

The philosophy of selecting such tales for the Iran Pavilion Design’s source of inspiration is based on two main questions’ answers. The first question is how a country like Iran has remained on the world map, and its people have survived?

Due to its geographical situation, Iran has always been considered by other countries and has encountered many challenges throughout history, so what is the main root of the resilience culture and resistance of the Iranian nation and country?

The answer is the skill and cultural power of Iranian civilization in negotiation; the soft power, or what we know today as diplomacy. According to Ms Nashid Nabian, designer and co-founder of SHIFT Process Practice Studio, in the video[2] of architectural documents presented in the Iran Pavilion Design Competition, the relationship between bargaining and narrative as the cultural power of Iranian civilization is matched with the Expo 2020’s theme, « Connecting Minds, Creating the Future. »


©Mohammed Shirkavand

The second question is, where can the best manifestation of such power be found except in history? The question’s answer takes us to the world of Persian literature.

In Sheherazad’s story, we see that the storyteller Sheherazad postponed the violence for 1001 nights with her narration skills, finally creating sympathy and empathy.

Scheherazade narrates stories to her husband, Shahriyar, king of Iran. The prince was injured and thus had hurt everyone by revenging. Sheherazade, the daughter of the king’s minister believed in the magic of stories and her storytelling ability. She thought that stories could save lives. Scheherazade tried to teach spirits to Shahryar little by little through the stories that ultimately protected people and cured his vengeance. Night after night and story after story, the prince was on his way to healing. At the end of the tales of 1001 Nights, we find out that Shehezarad removes the revenge from the king’s heart with each story; so finally, she has cured the king and survived.

Inspired by Sheherazad’s story, which directly refers to the power of communication and speech coping with violence and creating empathy, the design of the Iran Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai wants to provide a dynamic atmosphere with uncertain and negotiable boundaries. Such an ambiance will raise the level of friendship and cooperation between Iranians and other nations.

The different symbols of the pavilion

The pavilion design at the Dubai Expo is aimed at showing the realities of Iran in terms of economy, social and cultural atmosphere (ancient civilization and traditions, customs, and people from primitive to present) and refers to peaceful coexistence.

You will see more symbols in the pavilion from Sheherazad’s story in architectural words, intertwined with the historical, cultural, and architectural context of the country;

  • The boxes or booths symbolize Sheherazad with her turquoise dress and dynamic box’ curtains consisting of small metaphorical balls of her hair. In the original design of the spheres, the architects considered pottery, which was the fundamental material of desert and Persian architecture in ancient times; however, in the end, the project executors prepared them with wood material due to restrictions and sanctions.
  • The water streams that flow on the sidewalks are inspired by Persian architecture, cooling the space outside the pavilion.
  • Another source of inspiration for designing the spaces inside the pavilion and their stories is the classical Persian visual arts, the miniature painting. Miniature paintings are a combination of micro-narratives that simultaneously create a macro narrative in one frame. You will see the architectural manifestations of the miniatures in the box spaces by combining several Iranian arts in each, like the content of the hall in which visitors can experience the original Persian art, carpet weaving while listening to Persian music. Also, there are models of Iranian historical monuments focusing on ancient Iranian motifs and engravings in this hall.
  • In Hall No. 4, a part of Shahrzad’s stories are narrated with images and sound every day. Moreover, the apertures that are reminiscent of Peep Box (Shahr-e Farang) display seven natural and historical heritages of Iran through offline clips every day. The difference between the completion of this section and its primitive design is that the videos were supposed to be online content from Iran.
  • Familiarity with the Persian roof architecture through illustration will be possible in Hall No. 2. Every five days, this hall introduces one of the provinces of Iran by showing visual content.
  • Hall No. 9 is one of the spaces with the content based on the primary scheme. Here you will see pictures and videos of the daily life of the urbanist educated people from the middle cortex. The hall will be attractive and unspoiled for the visitors because the world perception of Iran and its people’s lifestyle is not true due to the long prejudice of the mainstream media.
  • In the pavilion Sharbat Khane (Persian bar), it is possible to taste traditional Persian herbal teas and refreshing drinks, which have various health properties for the body.
  • In one of the entrance sections of the pavilion, you will see the statue of a bird, Simorgh, the mythical bird of Ferdowsi Shahnameh, which is a symbol of tourism in Iran and stands out in the pavilion for this purpose.

In the end, considering the multiple paths in such design, each visitor will discover one of the 1001 nights narrations of Shehera during their visit to the Iran Pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020, according to their choices.

Iran Pavilion Among The Top 8 Architectural Designs in Dubai Expo 2020

According to a report published on the Architectural Digest website[3], the names of eight pavilions with the best architectural design have been announced. The eight pavilions on the list are the Terra Pavilion, the ENOC Group Pavilion (The Official Integrated Energy Partner of Expo 2020 Dubai), the Alif Dynamics Pavilion (designed by Foster & Partners), the Saudi, French, Singapore, Japan, and Iran pavilions.

According to the CNN newsgroup, the architectural design of the Iran Pavilion was recognized as one of the best and most attractive pavilions of Expo Dubai, included in the list of 15 top designs. Also, in this report, Iran Pavilion is introduced to the world as the second eye-catching pavillion[4].






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