With millions of visitors expected, Expo 2020 Dubai will open its doors and begin welcoming the world from 1 October 2021. Featuring more than 200 participants, the World Expo – the largest event ever held in the Arab World – will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with up to 60 live shows daily during its six-month run. Standing at 67.5 meters (221 feet) tall and 130 meters (427 feet) in diameter, Al Wasl dome – a stunning feat of art and engineering that features a 550-tonne steel crown – sits atop Al Wasl Plaza, the beating heart of the Expo 2020 site. Hosting major ceremonies and celebrations, Al Wasl, which means “the connection” in Arabic, is emblematic of the theme of Expo 2020 Dubai: ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’.
Creating an immersive experience
Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG), the firm responsible for the design of Al Wasl Plaza, approached the design with the goal of creating a powerful, immersive platform that could be used for events of all sizes. Taking into consideration the hot Dubai climate, the grand trellis design diffuses the sunlight during the day, while supporting a lush garden within the dome. AS+GG identified an opportunity to repurpose the shade structure at dusk, transforming it into an immersive experience.
Delivering this experience is no small feat, and Pro-AV is at the forefront. “The AV was always a key part of the dome, it was always going to be an immersive experience,” says Andy Reardon, Managing Director, Creative Technology Middle East (CTME), the AV integrator for Al Wasl dome.
Al Wasl dome features a trellis design, with pieces of a specially made projection screen material stretched tightly between each section. This creates a 360-degree, 25,380-square-meter (273,188-square-foot) projection surface. Visible from both inside and outside, the dome’s projection surface is one of the largest 360-degree projection surfaces in the world. Given the dome’s vast surface area, selecting the right projectors was essential.
Simon Pritchard, Director – Projects, Jacobs Mace, Official Programme Delivery Management Provider of Expo 2020, noted the original design called for a laser phosphor-based projection system, but was changed based on emerging Christie technology.
“We were made aware of the development and pending release to market of the D4K40-RGB projectors from Christie. The brightness that these units deliver, together with the color gamut associated with the RGB pure laser solution, was very appealing to the team.?Expo had engaged with Christie to discuss partnering opportunities across the program.?The commitment to both Expo 2020 and indeed Al Wasl was very apparent from the initial meetings that were held with Christie.?This, coupled with the technical support that we received from Christie, was the deciding factor in choosing Christie as our delivery partner,” says Pritchard.
Andrew Nu, Business Development, CTME, notes: “At that time, it wasn’t common to get a 40,000-lumen projector with 4K resolution in laser. We’re very lucky that the laser technology lined up with this project. With lamp-based projectors, because of servicing the lamps, it would have been an impossible project.”
The Christie D4K40-RGB pure laser projector features an all-in-one design, with no external chillers or laser racks, and it is smaller and lighter at 129 kilograms (285 pounds), than other projectors in the same class. Its design suited the limited space available to house the projectors, and with 40,000 ANSI lumens per projector, met Expo 2020’s requirements for producing a bright image suitable for broadcast.
A total of 252 Christie D4K40-RGB projectors were installed in 42 projector pods located around the inside perimeter of the dome. The pods, which are large enough to hold a compact car, have glass fronts, are air-conditioned and rear accessible, and protect the projectors from the weather elements in Dubai, such as heat and dust. Each pod can hold six projectors in two stacks of three.
On developing the pods, Pritchard says: “The primary challenge we identified from the outset as a team was with the engineering of the projector pods and maintaining the environment for the projectors to operate in.?In addition to the mechanical and electrical systems within the pods, the projectors have to be accessible at all times, which entailed developing a complex automated racking system so that the projectors can be removed and installed in the pods as required. The technical challenges were compounded by the fact that the projector pods are attached to the trellis structure 23 meters above the ground!”
Controlling the projectors is Christie Conductor, an advanced monitoring and control software solution for Christie 3DLP® projectors. It can automatically power-up or -down projectors, as well as access interrogator logs, update firmware and perform health checks. Nu notes: “We use Conductor to remotely manage the projectors’ operation and interrogate their status. Conductor makes getting status reports easier.”
And to create a fully immersive experience in the dome, audio is integrated above the projection pods. Reardon says: “You can stand anywhere in the dome, and you literally won’t know what direction to look in. There will be something happening everywhere.”
Al Wasl Plaza, the beating heart of the Expo 2020 site, will host a slate of immersive content and experiences across the event’s six-month run. Tareq Ghosheh, Chief Events and Entertainment Officer, Expo 2020 Dubai, says: “Our programme has taken into account our Thematic Weeks, which address some of the world’s most pressing issues, alongside various special events, such as New Year’s Eve and Christmas celebrations. Al Wasl will also host national day celebrations, serving as a global platform to showcase our International Participants’ unique content to millions of visitors.”
The dome will “wake-up” twice daily, once in the morning and again after Maghrib, the sunset prayer. With content tailored to the time of day, projections will begin in the evening.
Ghosheh explains: “The sensory experience in Al Wasl Plaza is made of five creative opportunities that can be used individually or collectively. In the morning awakening, we will utilize most of these in different formats, with one of them – the immersive experience – limited to immersive soundscapes that will add to the wonderment of Al Wasl.
“After Maghrib, as it gets darker, the evening awakening will make the most of all these opportunities, with projection technology used as a primary tool in their creation. Every night, there will be at least one performance that will bring all five creative opportunities together to create an extraordinary and magical experience.”
The AV integration is almost complete, with the CTME team commissioning projectors and providing on-site training. Reardon says of the dome: “It’s been a really impressive project to work on – the Creative Technology team has put in an amazing effort to deliver this project.”
“Christie is pleased to have partnered with Expo 2020 and the designers on this one-of-a-kind project that will be seen and enjoyed by so many people at Expo 2020, and for years to follow,” says Bryan Boehme, Executive Director of Americas Enterprise Sales & Global Business Development, Christie. “We love making the impossible possible.”
Joe Graziano, Director of Sales, Entertainment, EMEA, Christie, notes: “At Christie, it’s been a pleasure helping to bring the Al Wasl dome to life. The dome is a feat of architecture, engineering and AV integration, and we’re ready to celebrate this achievement with the rest of the world in 2021.”
“The support from Christie, from the first project kick off meeting in Chicago on the 18 January 2019 through to the successful delivery and inauguration in January 2020, has been exceptional.?A large part of the success of the project is without doubt down to the support and commitment from Christie,”?says Pritchard, noting that the reaction to the dome has been incredible. “The scale of the installation cannot be appreciated through the renders and animations. It is fair to say that the immersive experience has exceeded expectations with regards to the clarity and brightness of the installation, together with the rich color gamut that the RGB projectors deliver.”
“Al Wasl is the personification of Dubai as a global city. This is exactly the sort of emotional journey that we’d like people to engage with as soon as they enter the dome. It’s welcoming, inviting and extraordinary – it’s a home away from home,” says Ghosheh. “Al Wasl started as a projection, before being turned into a magical, immersive and sensory space. We use projection as a tool, rather than an end itself.”