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Penda + Smartvoll Design Giant Watermill For Austria’s Expo 2020 Dubai Pavilion

Austria Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai / Penda + Smartvoll

Penda Austria & Smartvoll

Architecture and design practices Penda and Smartvoll have designed a giant watermill for Austria‘s National Pavilion for EXPO 2020 Dubai. ‘The Source of Everything’ was selected as a finalist in an international competition and marks the first collaboration between Penda Austria and Smartvoll. The project features a supersized mill, that circulates water through the pavilion and brings one experience to the desert of Dubai during a crowded Expo that Austria is famous for: Refreshment.

 Austria Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai / Penda + Smartvoll

“In my opinion, a pavilion at the Expo shouldn’t be a box that solely showcases products and companies,” says Philip Buxbaum, partner of Smartvoll.  “At its best, a pavilion offers a surprise, a fun time with a message and an adventurous exploration. By creating a lasting impression, it will connect the visitors personally to the values of a country and its culture.”

As Penda and Smartvoll note, water shaped Austria and generates most of the country’s energy. “Our drinking water from Austrian glaciers is known as one of the best in the world and is highly treasured as a public good. In times where large cooperations are buying wells and the pollution of our rivers, lakes and oceans is on a all time high, the pavilion should be a statement to underline the importance that that water is a public asset. Water is the source of life. It is the main designer of our environment.”


The pavilion lets visitors experience multiple stages of water by dancing in the rain. Austria’s wealth of water is conveyed as the key to the pavilion’s identity. The pavilion offers a place of refreshment and portrays a land of revitalization for the body and the mind.

 Austria Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai / Penda + Smartvoll

On average, it rains between 0 and 1 times per month during the time of the Expo in Dubai. Attracting millions of people, an expo is usually a crowded event and a heated place, even if it doesn’t take place in a desert. Dubai 2020 will be a particularly hot Expo.

“Usually, the task of a building is to protect against weather. But once we started the process, we didn’t want to create an indoor space and fill it with air-conditioning to make it visitable. That’s not a sense of sustainability the Expo should stand for. We also didn’t want to close up the pavilion because it could rain one time per month. So we emphasised on the topic. Not only welcomes our pavilion the rain, it even produces it. Our building leaks, drops, vapors, steams and rains. In this sense the Austrian Pavilion is one large sprinkler that refreshes its visitors,” says Chris Precht.

The Austrian Pavilion is open to the sides to let wind flow through the wood structure. On the top of the pavilion, shades protect from direct sunlight. Between the structure, watermills slowly carry collected and clean Austrian rainwater to the top and drop by drop make it rain throughout the building – inviting people to interact, play and regenerate.

 Austria Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai / Penda + Smartvoll Austria Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai / Penda + Smartvoll

On the entrance of the ramp, visitors gets an austrian-colored umbrella, that protects them from direct sunlight outside of the pavilion. After that, visitors line up in the shadow of the pavilion and experience the watermills turning from the outside. Between the structure, they see other people interacting with the pavilion and its water.

 Austria Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai / Penda + Smartvoll Austria Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai / Penda + Smartvoll

Once inside, visitors can decide the level of their refreshment: either using the umbrella, or experience the Austrian rainwater hands-on. Different zones of vapour, drops, steams and pouring rain provide a path through the pavilion. A large windmill on the back of the building provides a constant flow to the refreshing atmosphere. After the interaction with the water, visitors are guided to the lower floor where we picked up the sub theme of the Expo: ‘Connecting Minds’. All people are sent to a single large table where they can dry their clothes over a glass of water and a chat with fellow Expo visitors. The very openness of the structure is an invitation by itself and makes it a symbol for Austria ́s hospitality and culture. People from all over the word will come to the Pavilion to get refreshed, eat, drink and connect.

The circulation of the mill – bringing water to the top, pouring it down and reusing it to pick it up again – is also the perfect embodiment of the water circulation itself. A life creating cycle that is the source of every thing.

Consultants: Facts and Fiction, Wolfgang Pauser

Project Team:Chris Precht, Philip Buxbaum, Christian Kircher, Fei Tang Precht, Dietmar Jaehn, Robert Müller, Andreas Horbelt, Wolfgang Pauser, Thomas Vournazos