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New Zealand has revealed its full pavilion experience at Expo 2020 Dubai – a showcase of ground-breaking new technology fused with indigenous culture and storytelling.

For the duration of Expo, Aotearoa New Zealand will invite guests to its immersive pavilion visitor experience to deepen their understanding of the country and the innovation and care for people and place exemplified through the Māori ethos of kaitiakitanga, an innate connection with the natural environment. Visitors will also gain an insight into a society that is inclusive and multicultural.

To honour the United Arab Emirates’ role as host of Expo 2020 Dubai, Whanganui iwi tribal elders and the New Zealand delegation invited Qasr Al Hosn, an Emirati cultural group to join the dawn dedication ceremony, . The ceremony began with Emirati Al Ayyala, followed by the Tāngaengae ritual performed by members of Whanganui iwi.

In Māori culture, everything has ‘mauri’ or life principle. The Tāngaengae ritual recounts the connection of humankind with the natural world and was accompanied by the beat of poi (woven balls on strings), intertwined with specific rituals to give rise to the mauri of the pavilion.

“The mauri roused by the Tāngaengae will inspirit visitors to the Aotearoa New Zealand pavilion with the same sense of connection to nature as we have” said Whanganui tribal leader Gerrard Albert. “Our sentinel tribal proverb is Ko au te Awa, ko te Awa ko au – I am the River, the River is me. This proverb represents an innate connection with the natural world that we know all people share.”


Aotearoa New Zealand pavilion experience revealed

A showcase of creativity and innovation, the Aotearoa New Zealand pavilion experience combines sound, vision and other sensory inputs to bring to life its “Care for People and Place” theme. Guided by the indigenous environmental ethos of kaitiakitanga, the understanding that humans and the natural world are inextricably connected, visitors will be challenged to rethink their own relationship with the natural world as they journey through the pavilion.

Powerfully evocative, its story is inspired by the world-first legal status accorded to the Whanganui River, one of the nation’s most precious natural resources and the first river in the world to gain legal personhood. Under Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017, the river is recognised as a living and indivisible whole, to better provide for the river’s health and wellbeing. Each pavilion space, designed in partnership with Whanganui iwi, aims to make visitors consider their own relationship with the environment and to feel and connect with this ethos so they may leave the world in a better place for future generations.“

“The New Zealand Pavilion is an immersive experience that contains a ground-breaking combination of new technology fused with indigenous culture and storytelling,” says Clayton Kimpton, New Zealand’s Commissioner-General to Expo 2020 Dubai. “The people of Whanganui have generously allowed us to share their story on behalf of Aotearoa New Zealand. We look forward to sharing this universal story, about the need for us to protect and care for people and place for future generations with visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai. We believe visitors will leave inspired to find out more about how we can innovate together to solve global challenges”

Located in the Sustainability District, the New Zealand pavilion’s innovative architectural design demonstrates the connection between people and the environment. Its façade moves in time with a low-frequency sound to create a rippling pulse effect. This is a reference to the mauri, or life-force within the pavilion. 

“Mauri is the life principle of the universal order, and we are part of that universal order along with all natural elements. In entering the pavilion, it is as if you are entering your ancestor, entering back into yourself to understand that connection to the mauri we share with nature,” says Whanganui tribal leader Gerrard Albert.

Visitors will be led into a space with textured walls made from sustainable strong-wool supplied by T&R Interior Systems. The three-dimensional sound absorbing panels are 100 percent biodegradable and renewable. In this space, visitors will be able to take a moment to reset from the heat, noise, and bustle outside of the pavilion and enjoy the cool air and muted sounds before continuing into the pavilion. 

Visitors then move into a digitally interactive zone where they will see their own shape displace the digital projections of nature and its pulsing energy – a representation of how we affect, impact, or interrupt the course of nature and its wellbeing. At the end of the long room, visitors will see themselves reflected in a glass wall where the words ‘I AM’ in English and Arabic float before them, interspersed in te reo Māori: ‘KO AU’ giving guests an open invitation to feel and be part of something bigger.

That something bigger unfolds in the next space, a room with water falling from a height of nine metres on either side of the visitor, as a representation of the Whanganui River, Te Awa Tupua. Here, visitors will learn about the Whanganui River legislation and how an indigenous value set has been shared by Whanganui iwi and imbodied in law. Visitors are invited to consider more broadly their own relationship with the environment – the idea that humanity’s wellbeing is innately connected with nature’s wellbeing.

Located at the heart of the room is a toka (boulder) brought to Dubai from Mount Tongariro, the source of the Whanganui River. The mauri is centred here and is the point from which the pavilion’s pulse emanates.

The next space in the visitor journey is the Presentation Room, a six-minute state-of-the-art audio-visual experience that transports visitors as they become part of the multidimensional storytelling of how New Zealand innovates to Care for People and Place. The film begins with a narrator, a young leader from Whanganui iwi named Ngaroma, diving into the Whanganui River, declaring “I am the River, the River is me.” Visually, the River then flows out to the sea and a majestic life-size Humpback Whale greets guests, the film opening a symbol of the interconnectedness of people, land, rivers, and the sea. Ngaroma then takes visitors on a journey of sector-led stories about New Zealand’s integrity, ingenuity, care, and creativity, including its space and satellite launching programme, regenerative farming practices, and some of the nation’s breakthrough healthcare technologies. Ngaroma intersperses the journey with a an immersive 360-degree shot of the River, and a narrative on the efforts of her tribe to have the true essence of her River acknowledged, allowing her to begin to heal. This honest and powerful subtext ultimately has Ngaroma joining in confidence and strength with her tribe in an invitation for all peoples to share in a deeper relationship with nature, and with one another.

“The approach to storytelling and design within the visitor experience of the New Zealand pavilion has been all about representing who we are intrinsically; it is about speaking and representing our story with authenticity rather than talking at culture,” says the pavilion’s Creative Director, Karl Johnstone of Haumi. “We hope that sharing our worldview in this way, will enable people from all around the world to engage, understand and draw inspiration from what is essentially, a universal narrative.”

Az James, one of the Directors of Workshop e, a New Zealand-based exhibition and experience design and production team, and one of the creative forces behind the pavilion’s visitor experience commented: “It has been an honour to be part of New Zealand’s Expo 2020 journey. The pavilion truly showcases our nation’s spirit of innovation and technical production through the individuals and companies that collaborated to deliver this unique experience. We hope visitors will enjoy and appreciate a taste of Aotearoa New Zealand and the significant story that is told through the pavilion.”  

Visitors can also enjoy some of New Zealand’s finest produce at the licenced pavilion restaurant Tiaki, which showcases the nation’s special connection with both land and sea, and the warm and generous hospitality for which it is known.

For more information about the New Zealand Pavilion and events at Expo 2020 Dubai visit

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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