Tellart’s design for ‘Salt Water Cities’ UAE Pavilion

Following on from its runaway success at the World Expo 2020 in Dubai, Amsterdam-based experience design studio Tellart worked in close creative collaboration with the United Arab Emirates once again, this time to develop the country’s pavilion for Floriade Expo 2022. As gardening’s widespread popularity continues to bloom in 2022, Tellart’s design ‘Salt Water Cities’ for the UAE pavilion challenges perceptions and celebrates the innovative approach to sustainability in the country’s dry, desert environment. 

Featuring interactive sculptures and immersive installations, Tellart’s design encourages visitors to learn about the abundance and diversity of life that grows along the UAE’s coastline. Tasked with designing roughly 200 square metres of exhibition space to fit the theme ‘Growing green cities’, Tellart worked in close collaboration with the UAE’s Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, which served as executive creative director, to shape a story that focuses on the UAE’s innovative, solution-focused approaches to its uniquely challenging environment of sun, salt and extreme heat. The UAE is a lab for the future, Tellart reveals: a home to salt-loving plants that thrive at the ecotone between a notoriously arid desert and the world’s hottest sea. Here, the natural world holds clues for how we might address some of humanity’s biggest challenges, from food security to climate change.

Collaboration between countries

The design and guest experience of the pavilion is also an example of Dutch and UAE collaboration. Alongside Dutch partner Tellart and UAE’s Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, UAE-based design studio Pragma co-created the pavilion’s garden and the architectural structure, while Aectual, Tellart’s neighbours in the Netherlands, printed the garden’s exterior walls and pavilion cladding. London-based virtual reality creators Marshmallow Laser Feast, UAE photographer Mohamed Somji and the Dutch Van Tetterode Glass Studio also collaborated on the project, working with Tellart to create an educational exhibition space that leads visitors on an integrated, multisensory journey celebrating the abundance of life that sustains the UAE’s 1300 km-long coastline and the vital role it can play in shaping our collective future.


High Technology experience

Tellart’s creative storytelling throughout the UAE Pavilion is subtly high-tech and consistently focused on visitor experience. Using integrated motion capture technologies, guests step inside an underwater seagrass meadow – at one with the only flowers ever to grow on the ocean’s floor. Advanced programming techniques encourage visitors’ real time interaction with their environment: evoking the feel of rippling water and spreading seagrass roots with their fingertips, before sending up a flurry of bubbles from the seabed. Here, humans and nature flourish together, joined in the same, singular experience and building a sense of kinship with the underwater world.


Discovering a new life

Such technology also sustains new life, we learn. Rather than relocate vulnerable, fully-aged plants from the UAE to northern Europe, a young forest of live mangrove shoots grow in an open-air saltwater pool, where a specialised pump system simulates the gentle tidal flow they need to survive. Within the indoor gallery, four glass sculptures also celebrate the UAE’s remarkable, salt-loving plants – each leaf precious and worthy of note. Placing a microscope’s lens on microalgae allows visitors to watch as a handful of slime becomes an intricate kaleidoscope of beauty in its natural state. Water transforms into a treasured resource as it trickles over the edge of an interactive pump and flows through the soil to sustain the plants that grow in the sand nearby.

“When it comes to urban greening, the UAE’s natural environment presents extreme challenges,” says Maia Garau from Tellart. “We are so inspired by their approach of searching for answers in nature—what can we learn from the plants that thrive here? How can they point us to a better future? We were immensely grateful for this opportunity to help tell the UAE’s story at Floriade.”

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