Situated in the south-westerly corner of Asia, its coasts bathed by the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, bordering with Oman and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates consists almost entirely of desert. For this reason, a large majority of its residents live along its 1,318 kilometers of coastline, especially the part facing onto the Persian Gulf. Its only mountainous areas are in the eastern part of the country… such as the Hajar Chain, close to the border with Oman. Its capital Abu Dhabi is in the center of the largest emirate, with 87 percent of the overall surface area, and the most populous, with 38 percent of the country’s population. The desert zone includes two major oases with sufficient underground water supplies to support permanent dwellings and crop cultivation. The UAE’s main source of income is oil: its geographic position also makes the country a fundamental transit area for its transportation.
Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine the main influences
The majority of the United Arab Emirates’ population (less than 10 million inhabitants in all) consists of expatriates from various foreign countries. On top of this, the country’s desert landscape means that it has to import 85 percent of its food supplies. This explains why it doesn’t really have a culinary tradition of its own, instead absorbing those of the countries from which its immigrants have emigrated… so above all Middle Eastern products (e.g. falafel and hummus) or Indian dishes.
The classic symbol of its native flora, however, is the palm date tree, which for centuries was the only food source in the dessert.
Desert dunes evoked in the magnificent Pavilion designed by Norman Foster
These two characteristic features, the desert and the date palm, have inspired the design of the UAE Pavilion in Expo Milano 2015. The dune motif catches the eye from far away: based exactly on photos of real dunes, reproduced in resin structures which also retain cool temperatures, thanks to an idea by its great architect, Norman Foster. The flooring of the ramp leading up to the Auditorium is smoothly undulating, heightening the sensation of walking on sand in one of the Emirates’ sand gullies.
This extraordinary construction already has a future ahead of it: on the night of October 31 it will be dismantled and transported to Masdar, one of the most futuristic smart cities in the world. This complex operation has a precise symbolic justification: the UAE wishes to demonstrate its skills and resources with a view to its upcoming organization of the Universal Exposition, to be held in Dubai in 2020, with the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. The Expo Site is already in construction, half way between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, making it easier to reach by air. The theme will be developed in three sections: sustainability, opportunity and mobility.
The other characteristic feature, the date palm, is the protagonist of the video which dominates the heart of the Pavilion, whose title is “Family Tree”. This tells the story of a little girl, Sara, who is transported into the past, where she discovers the traditional methods used by earlier generations to access and preserve fresh water, and the importance of dates in offering survival in the desert.