In the United Arab Emirates, a universal exhibition to celebrate the post-Covid world

A falcon in flight, with gigantic feathers unfurled. This is the spectacular architecture chosen for the pavilion of the host country of the Universal Exhibition which is due to begin on October 1, 2021 in Dubai (United Arab Emirates (1)) and where Sciences et Avenir – Research was able to go for scouting, before the event, which some of our readers and Internet users will be able to discover, during a cruise in early December (read at the end of the article). Quite a symbol at a time when the UAE can boast of knowing how to fly very far, after the launching of the Al Amal (“Hope”) probe into orbit around Mars in February 2021 and the accession to the rank of fifth capable country to rally the Red Planet after the United States, Russia, Europe and India.

192 countries gathered over 4.5 km2

On the site of the Universal Exhibition – a first in the Middle East – about forty kilometers southwest of the city, we can already see the white origami-style facade of the Japan Pavilion, which will host the subsequent World Expo, in Osaka in 2025. Or the astonishing “forest” of wood, symbol of a “ecosystem of connected living beings”, for Sweden (2). Or the red heart of the Chinese pavilion, more than 120 million dollars, which promises to be one of the largest. The French pavilion should gain from being seen at night – like a “luminous canopy” with gazebo and given its theme “Light, Lights” – after having gathered electricity during the day thanks to its 2500 m2 of colorful photovoltaic tiles. “60% of energy consumption should be produced by the building itself”, the architects promise (3). Sustainability requires. We know that the universal exhibitions are there, in fact, to present the best of “world class innovations”.

In a set of 4.5 km2 for 192 countries (4), the competition promises to be tough. This one, under the sign of “Connecting minds, building the future”, however, has a paradoxical chance. If all goes as hoped by its organizers, it will be the largest post-Covid global event, with 20 to 25 million visitors expected. “A chance”, in addition “the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the UAE on December 2”, says Thierry Aucoc, senior vice president of commercial operations Emirates for Europe and Russia, met on site. He sees it as an opportunity to strongly relaunch the flights of the company – which will display its own flag at the Expo! – currently operating more or less at 30% of its capacity due to Covid-19 (5). And put on “70% of visitors [qui] other countries will come for what can be considered the biggest event ever in the Arab world “.

The opportunity for politicians, tourists, businessmen and women, scientists and technicians etc. to cross paths, or even to find each other, duly vaccinated or negative PCR test in your pocket … And this, in a display of images, events and art in full view for six months. A very spectacular door in the shape of a carbon fiber mesh has already seen 100,000 visitors pass, for one of the large pavilions dominated by mushroom flowers with photovoltaic panels, dedicated to the history of man, the Anthropocene and enjoining pollution control, with many images of the oceans and their endangered inhabitants, sharks, dugongs, whales… All in the play of blue light from a very beautiful… virtual aquarium!

“Inspiration at the speed of light”

For now, however, most places are still under construction, the pandemic having brought the work of many participants to a halt in 2020. For the France pavilion, it takes some imagination to furnish the concrete walls, using incentive slogans, such as “Lightspeed inspiration – inspiration at the speed of light” and the declared will to celebrate “progress”. Located in one of the three giant petals – like one of the flowers of the desert, a general design adopted by the exhibition – it is part of the theme “mobility” (the other two are called sustainability and opportunity). As proof, it is a godfather who is indeed more than mobile, who has been selected: the essential astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who flew on Friday April 23 from Cape Canaveral aboard a Crew Dragon capsule to reach the international space station. ISS, of which he will be captain for a month.

The godmother Jessica Préalpato gives her, in a classic French register of high-end gastronomy, as pastry chef at the Plaza Athénée. Besides twelve “thematic fortnights” (biodiversity, space, women, oceans, climate, etc.) with interventions by specialists (CNRS, universities, etc.) – “It was a challenge for us to talk about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs” insists Eric Linquier, commissioner general for France – this very French register will certainly be used during the six months of the exhibition. From fashion (Jean-Paul Gaultier) to homage to Notre-Dame de Paris (LOréal, Histovery) through archetypal references (Baccarat, Bernardaud…).

More in tune with the questions of urban mobility, a crucial problem for all the big metropolises of the planet, the visitor should also discover there what will bring together the “Greater Paris” (12 million inhabitants), with representations of 5 of its 68 new metro stations. “By 2050, there will be more than 2.5 billion more urban dwellers” insisted Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who launched Monday April 26 the official promotion of France at the Expo. An urban development that is eye-catching in Dubai, 3 million inhabitants today, where a multitude of skyscrapers continue to rise, especially in a brand new center, about ten kilometers from the current downtown. One wonders if the 1-kilometer-high tower will one day dominate it, flanked by a surprising fishnet, proposed by Santiago Calatrava (1), thus beating the record for the Burj Khalifa. Did you say sustainability?

From 3 to 12 December 2021, with Sciences et Avenir – Research (Challenges group), it will be possible to discover the Universal Exhibition in Dubai, to visit the Louvre in Abu Dhabi as well as the national museum (“Rose des Sables”) of Qatar in Doha, two famous works by the French architect Jean New.
THURSDAY MAY 6, 2021 at 6.15 pm: during a videoconference “Dubai and its Universal Exhibition 2021-2022” to which register for free will be provided details both on the scientific and cultural program on board (conferences by astronaut Jean-François Clervoy and the geopolitics professor Mikaa Mered) than on the history of the Emirates, with the historian Marie-Christine de Warenghien, and Dominique Leglu, editorial director of the Sciences pole (Sciences et Avenir – Research) of the Challenges group.

1) Santiago Calatrava, after tough competition with 9 of the most renowned architectural firms in the world

2) Alessandro Ripellino and Adrien Gardère, main architects

3) Atelier du Prado Architects and Celnikier & Grabli (CGA),

4) 136 pavilions, because some countries come together for their presentation and, moreover, many NGOs will also be present

5) The company is supposed to play a “key role of ‘connector’ for this universal exhibition, the estimated economic impact of the transport, hotel and tourism sector being around 3.75 billion €”.

Sorbonne and artificial intelligence

Innovate? It is with two industrial chairs in artificial intelligence, created with the help of the companies Thales and Total, as well as with three new masters which will also be able to use AI (1) that the Sorbonne Abu Dhabi University (SUAD , around a thousand students, is entering its fifteenth year of presence since its establishment in 2006, explained to Science and the Future Silvia Serrano, his new vice-chancellor, specialist in political sociology of the countries of the Caucasus in the post-Soviet era. “In archival”, the AI ​​processing of data and documents relating to history and heritage has taken on new importance for the Gulf countries. Completes a sector “archeology as well as physics applied to cultural heritage” (dating methods, materials science…). Goal, “also train young people from the Emirates in higher education and research, and not only with the Anglo-Saxon model”, the British and American universities being very established locally. In the wake of the creation of new museums such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi, “the needs of experts in art history and more generally in all museum professions” keep increasing, explains Silvia Serrano. “Our diplomas are issued by the University of Paris-Sorbonne, assurance of their excellence, 310 ‘visiting professors’ come each year, except for the past year when the courses are held online”, insists the Vice-Chancellor while recalling that the University is “realistic. Most of our masters are in English. But more than 300 of our students are learning French”. As for AI, we will have understood that it has become a priority in the region, where a ministry of artificial intelligence was established in 2017 and the new university of artificial intelligence Mohamed Ben Zayed was created in 2019 ( MBZUAI), which in February 2021 has just concluded specific AI agreements with the prestigious Weizmann Institute (Israel).

(1) The SUAD is part of the scientific committee of the French pavilion and has contributed to the setting up of its thematic weeks. The international council of SCAI (Sorbonne center for artificial intelligence).

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