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Edward Bawden crest, designed for the British Pavilion at Expo ‘58, the Brussels World Fair. Image: Central Office of Information

Key details


  • 1 September 2021


  • RCA

Read time

  • 2 minutes

The UK’s participation theme at Expo 2020 Dubai is ‘Innovating for a Shared Future’, embodied by the stellar architecture of the UK Pavilion conceived and designed by Es Devlin, working with global brand agency Avantgarde, and inspired by the Stephen Hawking project 'Breakthrough Message'. Highlighting artificial intelligence and space, and encouraging people to embrace the power of innovation and communication, the UK Pavilion will invite visitors to consider what message we would choose to express ourselves as one planet should we one day encounter other advanced civilisations in space.

UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai © Courtesy of the UK’s Department for International Trade

The Royal College of Art (RCA) as the world’s leading art and design university is delighted to join this journey into the future, and will showcase the strength and importance of art, design and innovation engineering – highlighting the significant role creative education plays in ensuring that a global Britain can innovate for a sustainable future.

“I’m thrilled that the RCA are continuing their legacy of work at World Expos with the United Kingdom at Expo 2020 Dubai. They will highlight the best of innovation from the UK’s past and show how the United Kingdom is always developing new solutions and creative approaches especially around the global issues being discussed at the Expo in Dubai.”

Laura Faulkner OBE UK Commissioner for Expo 2020 Dubai

The RCA has a 170-year history of shared heritage with world exhibitions, going back to the very first Expo, The Great Exhibition of 1851, conceived by Prince Albert and Sir Henry Cole (who guided the early days of the institution that would become the RCA). The RCA was repeatedly entrusted with creating the British section of world exhibitions. At Expo ‘58, the Brussels World Fair, Edward Bawden crafted the signature royal lion and unicorn crest (cut from linoleum) alongside murals by Leonard Rosoman and a large open-air library. More recently, the UK Pavilion for Expo '98, held in Lisbon, was designed by the RCA's then-Head of Architecture, Professor Nigel Coates, while the UK Pavilion for Expo 2010 Shanghai was designed by the RCA graduate Thomas Heatherwick (MA Furniture, 1994).

Prince Albert and Sir Henry Cole conceive the first Expo in London, 1851

The RCA’s contribution to the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 will bring together a wide range of interdisciplinary projects from staff, current students and recent graduates. InnovationRCA, our start-up incubator, and the RCA’s research centres and degree programmes will show their cutting-edge work around sustainability, the circular economy, inclusive design, intelligent mobility, and the future of fashion. Additionally, on 15 March 2022, when the UK Pavilion will be asking the question 'in the future, how will we advance?’, the RCA will create an all-day programme of talks, panels and workshops exploring how creativity, technology and innovation can transform the human experience and the world we inhabit. 

“Throughout its 185 years, the Royal College of Art has always defined the future through creativity and innovation – from the 1960s standard-issue design for hospital beds by RCA graduate and pioneer Kenneth Agnew to environmental solutions today such as graduate company Olombria, who are using technology to improve pollination efficiency. I look forward to RCA staff and students demonstrating the incredible history and power of UK art and design, as Heritage Partner for the UK Government’s contribution to this important global showcase.”

Dr Paul Thompson Vice-Chancellor of the RCA

RCA Vice-Chancellor, Dr Paul Thompson, will also support the cultural programme for the UK Pavilion as he joins Clare Burnett, President of the Royal Society of Sculptors and Dan Ramsey, Director, GREAT Campaign as a Juror for the Live Sculpture Commission, delivered at the UK Pavilion with the Royal Society of Sculptors this November. 

Heritage Partner for the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai