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Lighting the worlds largest Expo: WBD’s involvement as Lighting Design Consultants for Expo 2020

In September 2021, Dubai saw the beautiful opening ceremony of Expo 2020 as it began to host the worlds largest Expo event. From October 2021 till March 2022, Expo 2020 welcomed and hosted 192 participating countries to be apart of the journey. The long awaited event was focused on ‘Connecting Minds and Creating the Future’ which was to be explored through the themes of Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity with each of these themes having its own District.

In 2018 Woodroffe Bassett Design was approached to work as the Lighting Design Consultant on Expo 2020 by Tareq Ghosheh, Chief Events and Entertainment Officer - Events and Entertainment. Adam Bassett (Founding Partner) led this process which quickly drew in a wider team of specialist from within the WBD family. Simon Fraser, of Ptarmigan Integration, worked with Adam to provide technical systems design consultation. John Coman supported Adam through the design process as his Associate. The initial brief for Expo was to transform Al Wasl Plaza from a spectacular garden into a venue in order to host an ambitious daily programme of shows, concerts and ceremonies, which changed nightly over the six month duration of Expo.

Al Wasl Plaza is a 67-metre-tall, 130 metre diameter structure with 252 video projectors and an immersive sound system. With a brief to transform the space into a venue, we designed a house lighting rig that is integrated into the structure with the clear direction not to detract from the beauty of the architecture. This space transformed throughout the day and night to become the most beautiful canvas for our team to be creative in.

Whilst Expo was open to the public during the winter months, rehearsals and programming in this outdoor dome, were carried out at the peak of summer in Dubai. It was recognised from the outset that the harsh summer environment in Dubai was going to place a lot of stress on all parts of the lighting system and that, where possible, all fixtures had to be outdoor rated. 

Two thirds of the way up the dome, are mounted 159 Elation Proteus Maximus that sit outside with a custom shade to protect them from direct sunlight. Around the perimeter of the trellis are 42 Projection Pods, the gantry behind each pod supports a climate controlled enclosure that houses ETC Relay Racks and Pathport Nodes. Hanging below each pod are a further 82 Elation Proteus Maximus, 168 Ayrton Perseo and 84 Aryton Domino.

Al Wasl Plaza was initially designed as a garden with predominantly indigenous plants, we designed 30,000 custom LED pixels to be planted alongside 3,000 Birket strobes within the plants. The garden lighting has been pixel mapped to compliment projected content. Located in the garden and on the top of service buildings, are 8 lighting masts, each mast carrying 2 Ayrton Hurracan LT and 4 Ayrton Domino. On the audio truss above the stage are 14 Ayrton Perseo fixtures. The stage floor package consists of 52 Robe MegaPointe, 72 GLP X4 Bar 10, 24 GLP X4 and 24 Varilite VL10 Beamwash.

Placing manned follow spots into Al Wasl Plaza was not possible and so we researched a remote controlled solution that would be easy to operate, work in a 3600 environment with numerous changing levels and be usable with pick ups of unto 130 metres. Having reviewed a number of options, we worked with Follow Me to develop a custom solution that met these challenging requirements. Subsequently the system has been upgraded to mask around 3 dimensional scenic elements.

The control system was Grand MA 3, running MA 2 software, and Disguise servers control the pixel mapped elements. The complexity of managing the show file for Al Wasl cannot be underestimated. Along with the thirty-five plus house shows that were delivered throughout the exhibition the venue was host to a number of external lighting teams bringing in concerts and special events. All these new shows needed to be ingested into the master showfile file without adversely effecting the show data already in the main file. Chris Lose built the master showfile acting as Senior Programmer with Brendan Albrey, Matt Jones and Aaron Russ supervising during Expo as Resident Programmers. 

As planning developed for the EXPO 2020 eight other entertainment and event venues were added to WBD’s scope. These consisted of:

  • Jubilee Stage - an external modern large music festival stage

  • Dubai Millennium Amphitheatre - a slightly more intimate external large scale opera inspired venue

  • DEC Hall 2 -  a multipurpose indoor venue, within the new exhibition centre to cater to theatrical and corporate events

  • Earth, Sun and Sea Stages - small festival stages themed on their location within the each of Expo three districts

  • The Bowl - a temporary external venue created within a natural amphitheatre of the Mobility Pavilion

  • The Forum - an internal small theatre style venue within the Opportunity Pavilion


The Jubilee Stage lighting design was inspired by a contemporary large music festival main stage designed to facilitate music performances, headline talent, spoken world, dance and comedy acts. 200+ moving fixtures consisting of Robe BMFL Wash XFs, Ayrton Khamsins, Elation Proteus Maximus, Robe Magapointes and Robe Spiiders. BMFL-LTs were used as FOH followspots utilising the FollowMe system. In addition to this considerable lighting rig the futuristic and organic scenic pros was treated with 400 metres of integrated colour changing LED. 

The Dubai Millennium Amphitheatre, a smaller and more intimate venue was another stage designed to be multipurpose, with an emphasis on theatrical events. The DMA lighting design was inspired by a modern large scale opera theatre. It should be able to facilitate dance, music performances, spoken word and comedy acts. 180+ moving fixtures consisting of Martin Viper Performances, Martin Viper Wash DX, Martin MAC Aura XBs. Elation Proteus Maximus and Robe Megapointe. 

The DEC Hall 2 lighting design was created to fulfil the brief of a multipurpose space that could hold theatrical presentations, corporate presentations and table top discussion, dinners and dance. 80+ moving fixtures including Clay Paky Mythos 2s, Martin Mac Aura XBs, Clay Paky K10s and VL4000 Spots. 

The other smaller stages were designed to be visually interesting with the ability to be multipurpose. From one moment to the next the performance on these stages could vary between grouped dance and solo musical performances. Equipment on these stages consisted of Robe Megapointes, Martin MAC Auras with Chauvet Ovation IPs and many battery fixtures such as the SGM P-1 and Astera AX-10, Astera AX-5, Chauvet WellPanels and Chauvet WellFits. 

Control of all of these stages was through Grand MA 3 hardware running in MA 2 mode. Neuman and Muller supplied all these stage, with the exception of the DEC Hall 2 which was supplied by Agora. Dubai local, Paul Coopes, wa Numann and Mullers lighting manager.

Originally tasked with designing the house lighting systems, our role developed tremendously, supporting  other venues, productions and events within the park as well as more general consultancy for site wide lighting. With the expansion of WBD’s brief to include these new venues Alex Marshall and Eneas Mackintosh were brought onboard as Lighting Directors.

In addition WBD were asked to provide the lighting design for the EXPO Daily Productions. WBD established a separate team specifically focused on the Daily Productions in Al Wasl Plaza led by our Principal Designer, Terry Cook. Terry was supported by Fraser Walker as his dedicated programmer. Daily production were produced by Artist In Motion from Australia under their Head of Creative Richard Linsay.  

During Expo we executed a number of ambitious shows in the Al Wasl Plaza. By the end of March our team working on the daily productions have opened 40 shows. Some of our most notable shows in this venue have been Al Adiyat…The Boy and the Horse, Diwali and the stunning Sami Yusuf performances of 'Beyond the Stars’.

Throughout the four years that WBD spent supporting this extraordinary project, we had the pleasure to work with an extremely talented and diverse team both locally and across the globe.

Specific mention to five individuals who led and supported our journey at every turn: Tareq Ghosheh, Chief Events and Entertainment Officer; Amna Abulhoul, Executive Creative Director; Kylie McOmish, Vice President - Production & Operations; Kate Randall, Vice President - Ceremonies & Programming and William Ainley, Vice President Technical.

The Team

WBD established an extensive team of multiple specialisms to support all aspects of our involvement with Expo 2020.

The project was headed by Adam Bassett, Founding Partner and Principal Designer for WBD and closely support by Simon Fraser as a Senior Technical Consultant from Ptarmigan Integration. Simon and Ptarmigan have long been an integral part of our team throughout this and many other projects. For Expo, Simon specifically led on systems design, technical integration and infrastructure delivery. Simon later fulfilled an operational role as Head of Lighting throughout the duration of the event. John Coman, from WBD, supported Adam Bassett as his Associate throughout the pre-event design process and programming. Once open John supported Simon as Deputy Head of Lighting and oversaw lighting creative.

We have also been working closely with Wonder Works (Piers Shepperd) and Auditoria (Scott Willsallen), the Technical Consultants for Expo 2020 Dubai Event and Entertainment Division. WBD have also worked closely with Agora, the lighting supplier for Al Wasl Plaza and the DEC Hall 2 as well as Neuman and Muller the lighting supplier for the Jubilee, DMA and all other venues.


Full team for WBD

Principal Consultant and Lighting Designer - Adam Bassett

Senior Technical Consultant / Head of Lighting Lighting - Simon Fraser

Designer / Deputy Head of Lighting - John Coman

Systems Consultant - Greg Pittams
Cover Deputy Head of Lighting - Ben Pitts

Lighting Director - Eneas Mackintosh

Lighting Director - Alex Marshall

Senior Lighting Programmer - Chris Lose
Lighting Programmer for New Year’s Eve show - Daniel Gündner

Resident Programmer / Systems Supervisor - Brendan Albrey

Resident Programmer - Matthew Jones
Resident Programmer - Aaron Russ

Lighting Designer for Daily Productions + Special Events - Terry Cook

Lighting Programmer for Daily Productions + Special Events - Fraser Walker

Assistant Lighting Designer for Daily Productions - Max Weir
Assistant Lighting Designer for Daily Productions - Aiden Bromley

D3 Programmer - Lucy Ockenden
D3 Specialist Show Creator - Stephan Hambsch

Design / Studio Manager - Miriam Bull

Project Administration - Liz Sinclair

Logistics Support - Sophie Croft

EXPO 2020 DUBAI | 2021 - 2022

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