giant conical pavilion spells out poems with your contribution at expo 2020 dubai

Sep 29, 2021

three years ago, it was announced that the artist and designer, es devlin, was undertaken to complete the UK pavilion for expo 2020 dubai. ‘the poem pavilion’ is the first one (for a UK pavilion) that is designed by a woman, since the event’s inception in 1851, and will be launched on 1 october 2021 at expo 2020 dubai.

the aim of devlin (see more here) was to express britain as a melting cultural pot that gathers visitors from all over the world; twenty-five million guests are predicted to pass through the event during its six-month run. each visitor is invited to say a word at the ‘mouthpiece’ of the pavilion and get immersed at the heart of the structure, surrounded by numerous illuminated words written in arabic and english.

the pavilion was designed as an expression of cultural meeting and its result is a collaboration of architects, designers, engineers, and technicians. the structure was produced by the london- and dubai-based agency avantgarde, who joined forces with structural engineers atelier one, sustainability engineers atelier ten and executive architects veretec, to deliver the design.

as a sustainable alternative to concrete and steel, cross laminated timber — sourced from sustainably managed european forests in austria and italy —  was chosen as the pavilion’s prime material; the timber is crafted around LED tiles engineered in belgium and manufactured in china, installed by local british and UAE teams, while the poetry generating algorithm has been developed by creative technologists in california.

es devlin’s passion for machine-generated poetry has previously begun with poem portraits at the serpentine gallery in 2016 in response to curator hans ulrich obrist’s invitation to consider the idea of a ‘social sculpture’. in 2017 she continued with the choral installation at the victoria and albert museum, turning their annual artist-conceived christmas tree into a ‘collective carol’. one year after, visitors fed words into the mouth of one of the lions in trafalgar square and watched the collective text projected up the length of nelsons column.

the generated text uses a machine learning model called GPT-2, defined by 1.5 billion parameters. the large language model was originally trained on a broad spectrum of internet text, and for this project, it was fine-tuned on a diverse and carefully curated selection of over five thousand poems.

project info:

name: UK pavilion – expo 2020 dubai

artist and designer: es devlin

collaborations: structural engineers: atelier one, environmental design consultants: atelier ten, executive architects: veretec and creative agency: avantgarde