Density Weaves Opportunities
The Pavilion of the Kingdom of Bahrain at Expo 2020 Dubai explored density as a catalyst for opportunity through an intricate exploration of the dense natural and urban compositions of the island. The Kingdom of Bahrain is today the sixth-densest country in the world. Density is woven into the fabric of the nation, experienced through the diversity of its landscapes, the concurrent juxtaposition of its historical and contemporary sites, the richness of its cuisine, and the multiplicity of religions and ethnicities. This long-standing history of dense development has cultivated a diverse culture, grounded on the one hand in the history of the land, and on the other hand in the openness to assimilating and accepting other cultures through its long history of trade. Today, density is perceived as one of the driving forces for sustainable growth that is economic, efficient, and innovative in its use of space and resources. As sustainable development remains one of the biggest challenges of our time, dense and contained human development is one of the best tools at hand for preserving the remaining natural habitats.
The pavilion was conceived as a physical and spatial experience of density and the future possibilities of building in an increasingly dense world. Designed by Christian Kerez Zürich AG, it was imagined as an open-plan space, submerged in the site and accessed through a ramp that created a transition between the outer and inner worlds of the pavilion. The structure of this central space was made of 126 columns joining each other at several points throughout the height of the space. The columns supported one another and the roof, providing a poetic structure demonstrating connection and density, while exploring the three-dimensional possibilities inspired by traditional Bahraini architecture’s geometric gypsum ornaments.
The Visual Identity
The visual identity of the pavilion resembled the theme and architectural approach of the pavilion. The design philosophy focused on creating a very dynamic and variable design solution, suitable for the wide range of applications across signage, digital, and print mediums while retaining a memorable, clear, and unique personality for the Bahrain Pavilion.
The identity was based on a set of design principles/aspects for the overall identity: Flexible, Multidirectional, and Minimalistic. The main design element was typography, all in black and white, with no colours and no added graphics, to represent density typographically. The visual result of playing with type and elongating letterforms, both in Arabic and English words, resembled the steel tubes crossing the pavilion space, as well as representing a dense environment.
The Typeface: 29LT Zawi
With the typographic design concept established, a unique bi-scriptural typeface was needed to create diverse graphical elements in the visual identity. A monospaced typeface came to mind since it has a horizontal space constraint and links to the idea of density. It was decided to customise the 29LT Baseet typeface from the 29LT fonts catalogue, firstly used for the pavilion and later published on the 29LT site as a companion to 29LT Baseet.
Zawi was customised to be the corporate and serious version of the more casual and friendly Baseet. The round terminals and finials of Baseet were replaced by straight cuts, and the fully rounded letter structures were straightened up to incorporate straight letterforms. In the Arabic character set, the closed and open counters became more horizontal or vertical, instead of rounder and curved. In the Latin, the apertures of the open counters were closed.
The typeface became neutral. The straight stems and terminals allowed the letters to be stretched and elongated adequately, allowing flexible and dynamic typographic visual treatments.
A dynamic bilingual logotype was created out of the typeface, reflecting the theme of the pavilion. The English and Arabic names of the pavilion could sit neatly above each other, or they could expand and elongate creating a dense typographic visual.
The logo on the pavilion facade was kept simple and clean, in two lines, while making it more playful for the print and web design applications. The logo became a dynamic design element that was used differently throughout the project. The logo could be rectangular, square, vertical, or horizontal, with the Arabic and English letters intertwining elegantly.
Following the same concept, the website design revolved around limited space and density. Instead of having a separate webpage for each section of the website, it was decided to place all the content into one webpage. The different sections of the site compress or expand to allow space for the selected content to show. The website is a simplified representation of the pavilion, the content is limited within the screen dimensions, and the space is used smartly to accommodate all the information. Furthermore, the mouse cursor is replaced by two intersecting lines, mimicking the steel beams in the pavilion.
All signage and exhibition graphics shared a common typographic approach and materiality. Stainless steel wall panels, labels, and 3D metallic powder-coated pictograms were applied directly onto the concrete and stainless steel surfaces of the building to keep a seamless and minimalistic appearance. A set of simplified pictograms was specially created to complement the typographic signs. The large stainless steel pavilion logo with the name of the pavilion was located at ground level by the main pavilion entrance.
The Printed Programs
Printed information for visitors included an exhibition guide and temporary exhibitions brochures, all designed in an experimental typographic manner to reflect the formal characteristics of the pavilion. Predominantly black and white, using a special uncoated paper, these printouts followed a similar layout with changes in the format and size. Accordion folding was used for the long exhibition programs, with Arabic on one side and English on the other. The programs could be inserted into the general pavilion diptych brochure.
Under the title “Density Weaves Opportunities,” a special bilingual edition (1,000 copies) was carefully edited, designed, and produced for Expo Dubai. The book featured photographs of the pavilion and landscapes of Bahrain taken by Maxime Delvaux including essays by the Kingdom of Bahrain Pavilion commissioners and architect Christian Kerez in Arabic and English.
The mirrored design had two covers with metallic foiled typography on linen, text pages on both sides and a prominent photography section in the middle. A sober and sophisticated selection of materials, including a dark grey linen dust jacket and a high-quality combination of uncoated and coated papers for the photography and text pages: thus the book aimed to resemble the style and themes of the pavilion. In spite of its large size, the book opened perfectly flat, allowing the view of full bleeding images and an ease of unfolding the numerous triptych pages, thanks to lightweight materials and the binding technique.
The Promotional Products
The flexible logotype was applied over a variety of promotional products sold in the pavilion store to promote local and unique Bahraini crafts, including tags and merchandising items and packaging.
This vision of spatial experience exploring flexibility succeeded at Expo 2020 Dubai. Now this success is shared in Bahrain itself, with the pavilion transported to its final home. The sustainable architecture of the Bahrain pavilion lives on also in the 29LT Zawi typeface, whose sophistication lies in its adaptability. Here lies true density: a desire to explore and to elongate, to serve many purposes for the future.