SL’s Expo 2020 pavilion labelled ‘underwhelming’, ‘one of the worst’

  • Visitors complain about state of pavilion 
  • Moratuwa Uni team furious their design wasn’t implemented 
  • Expo organisers offered free pavilion; SL chose to pay
  • SLTDA says they are not to blame

People who visited the Sri Lankan pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai are complaining about the state of the pavilion labelling it as “underwhelming” and “one of the worst”.

According to certain participants, the Sri Lankan pavilion has been described as an embarrassment to the nation, as the pavilion appears to largely consist of items displayed in a monotonous manner with no attempt made to provide visitors with a unique experience. 

EXPO 2020 – SL Embassy in Saudi

It was further pointed out that the final design pays no homage to Expo’s sub-themes.

There appears to be a general consensus that the only redeeming part of Sri Lanka’s pavilion was the tea corner managed by the Sri Lankan Tea Board; its tea with jaggery has proved to be a hit among visitors. However, according to a message circulating on social media, it appears that they have run out of jaggery within the first three days.

However, The Morning Business was unable to verify this allegation, as the relevant authorities were unreachable. 
Moreover, several participants had alleged that the event co-ordinator in charge of handling visitors to the Sri Lankan pavilion was a non-Sri Lankan, and it was pointed out that a Sri Lankan in an osaree would have been the appropriate choice to adequately promote Sri Lanka in such a capacity. When contacted, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Director General Dhammika Wijesinghe didn’t comment on this query, and The Morning Business was unable to verify this claim as well.

The University of Moratuwa (UoM) design team claimed that the design of the Sri Lankan pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai is a watered-down version of their award-winning design, which has been implemented with no input from the team.

The UoM team has aired their frustrations out on social media regarding the fact that the final design outcome of the Sri Lankan pavilion has deviated significantly from their design, to the extent that the experience they had hoped to create through their design was lost.

Wijesinghe stated: “As far as I know, the design was done and handed over to Sri Lanka Tourism by the Export Development Board (EDB).”

She further stated that, according to her knowledge, the design is the same, and only the decor has been changed.
In 2018, the water-based pavilion design of the UoM team won the Creative Youth Programme, a competition organised by the Expo Dubai organisers for university students to design the interior of their nation’s pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai. The UoM team was judged by the Expo 2020 Dubai Committee; their design was judged the winning design from among the other international participants and awarded a prize of Rs. 700 million by Dubai organisers for their achievement.

Following this achievement, the Expo 2020 Dubai organisers had offered to build the Sri Lankan pavilion, incorporating this winning design free of charge as part of the award, an offer the SLTDA Director General confirmed that they took up. However, according to the University of Moratuwa Team, Sri Lanka might have paid for the designs that are not part of the initial winning design of the team.

Considering that the expected cost of the pavilion was around Rs. 600 million, this should have provided Sri Lanka with an advantage over other developing nations to provide a unique package at Expo 2020 Dubai, social media posts claimed. 

The team claimed that despite this advantage, it appears that the Sri Lankan authorities have failed to adequately prepare a proper thematic design for the country’s pavilion, which represents a significant setback for the country’s goals at Expo 2020 Dubai.

The award-winning design of the UoM team involved a water-based pavilion design that would showcase the hydraulic civilisation of the island from a tourist’s perspective, bringing out the three positioning pillars of Authenticity, Compactness, and Diversity. It also aimed to provide the visitors with a unique interpretation of Sri Lanka by taking them on a journey through the history, culture, nature, people, and other facets of the island, through a storytelling experience.

UoM team member Dulaj Shirantha Perera has claimed on social media that, other than for a brief meeting with the EDB in February 2019 which didn’t involve any discussion on the project design, the UoM team was at no point included by the Sri Lankan authorities in a collaborative design initiation process with regard to the pavilion design.
Commenting on the deviations of the final implemented design from the UoM’s award-winning design, Perera claimed: “They have replaced one of the most crucial elements in the design – Dumbara weaving panels in our designs with acrylic-painted ‘So Sri Lankan’ panels.”

According to him, such changes have undermined the inherent experience which was to be provided through the design, to offer foreign participants a different interpretation of Sri Lanka and its craft story.

He further pointed out that the centre pod was meant to be an interactive floor with a water well effect, where people of different nationalities could gather and share thoughts by tapping on the screen; this design concept was a play on the Sinhala term linda langa sangamaya. However, under the final design implemented, it is just three rings with a nattuwa on it.

He further asserted: “These green ceiling height walls were meant to be black with the gal lalla effect, comparing gal lalla/wali puwaruwa/katapath pavura to modern interactive digital boards. Imagine that these walls would have been filled with the text scripts or scribblings of different people of different nationalities by the end of the exhibition. Imagine people coming from different parts of the world, reading comments about our country by other nationalities.”

Expo 2020 Dubai is being carried out over a 438-hectare area (1,083 acres), divided into three petal-shaped districts to reflect Expo’s sub-themes; Opportunity, Mobility, and Sustainability. The Sri Lankan pavilion is located in the “Opportunity District” comprising a 300 m2 space. 

The Sri Lanka pavilion has been described as “underwhelming” when compared to other pavilions of other nations by participants on social media. The final implemented design has been criticised as failing to make a thematic statement and failing to create a positive experience of Sri Lanka for foreign participants.


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