Salt Water Cities: where land meets sea


Looking to the desert and sea for answers to build more sustainable, resilient cities

Growing Green Cities was Floriade 2022’s core theme, so an essential part of this AIPH-approved World Horticultural Expo in Almere-Amsterdam were the gardens and pavilions that address sustainability challenges facing communities worldwide.

‘Salt Water Cities: where land meets sea’ was the theme the United Arab Emirates chose to demonstrate how they work with nature in its country’s extreme environment, where water scarcity and scorching heat make typical horticulture almost impossible to achieve sustainably. In the UAE, many significant cities are on the coastline, so the pavilion at Floriade showcased how they look to the sea for opportunities to green cities.

Salt Water Cities celebrated the country’s innovators – researchers and entrepreneurs that are continuously exploring new ways to find solutions to help preserve the natural environment and encourage a more sustainable future.

During the 177 days of the Floriade, the United Arab Emirates Pavilion hosted more than 215,000 guests.

The UAE Pavilion ambassadors were on standby to meet the visitors, guiding them through the UAE Pavilion’s experience and bringing to life the story of its theme.

The UAE’s participation resulted from a successful experience hosting the first World Exposition in the Middle East region, Expo 2020 Dubai. The Commissioner General, His Excellency Jamal Al Musharakh, UAE Ambassador to The Netherlands, saw an opportunity to contribute to the Floriade’s core theme around “Growing Green cities”.

At the Floriade, the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth officially presented the UAE Pavilion. The UAE Pavilion plot size was 1,008 square metres. The design and guest experience came from a dynamic creative collaboration between the UAE-based Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and Tellart, a Dutch narrative and guest experience partner, in partnership with UAE-based Pragma, an architecture film. Tellart contributed to the development of the overall narrative and the design of the interior gallery and content, and Pragma designed the building and garden.

Aectual, a Dutch-based 3D printing designer, constructed the wall encasing the plot. It is made from thermoplastic pellets, which are 100 per cent highly recyclable.

Other key creatives involved in the project included the Amsterdam-based Van Tetterode Glass Studio to produce glass representations of the halophytes, UAE-based Tinkah on brand design, and UAE-based photographer Mohamed Somji for the visuals featured in the gallery.

The UAE Pavilion featured a Salt Water garden, representing the circular biosaline agriculture systems that play a crucial role in the UAE.

The setup showed how waste brine from desalination goes into fish tanks, the fish enrich the water with their waste, and the nutrient-dense water is then used to grow quinoa and salicornia.

The water is then passed through a mangrove plantation, which purifies the water to be returned to the sea in its original state without negatively impacting the marine ecosystem.

Visitors could see the following plants: Halophytes (salt-tolerant plants) like Salicornia, known as The Desert Superhero for its resilience, which is a potential source of biofuel; Mangroves, known as The Guardian of the Coast, used to sustain entire ecosystems and defend coastlines.

The pavilion also featured an immersive experience showing the stories of Microalgae, known as The Life Force of the Seas, which provides crucial oxygen and supports the underwater food chain and biodiversity.

The immersive videos also showcased the importance of Seagrass, known as “The Lungs of Our Seas”. Seagrass is essential for all marine species to survive, especially in the UAE, which has the world’s hottest seas. In this region, seagrass meadows support rare species, such as dugongs and green turtles, and function as nurseries for fish.

To further contribute to the Floriade Expo 2022’s theme and bring the UAE Pavilion narrative to life, the Pavilion hosted special events throughout the duration of the Expo:

The UAE Pavilion hosted a Dutch-UAE delegation visit led by Her Excellency Mariam al Mheri, the UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment; in conjunction, the Pavilion hosted an innovator dialogue on “Agri-Innovations in Our Ecotone: Doing More With Less” featuring Dr Tarifa al Zaabi (ICBA), Yazen al Kodmani (Emirates Bio Farm), and Majid al Qassimi (Soma Mater), moderated by a Dutch-based vertical farm expert. The program was hosted at Floriade, with guests joining the conversation, including the delegation and pavilion colleagues from across Floriade.

For the UAE National Day at Floriade, hosted by the CG His Excellency Jamal al Musharakh, the UAE Pavilion hosted diplomats and dignitaries from The Hague and the government of The Netherlands. The national day was purposely set to coincide with the International Day of the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem, connecting to the mangroves featured in the UAE Pavilion. The Pavilion also hosted a pop-up exhibition for guests to learn about “Mangroves: The Guardians of Our Coast”.


The UAE Pavilion hosted a workshop on “Where Innovation Meets Creativity: Responsibility to Our Environments,” challenging UAE and Dutch-based creatives to discuss making with impact in mind. UAE guests included Wael al Awar (wai wai), Moza al Matrooshi (artist), Eisa al Sabousi (Tharb), and Ranim al Halaky (Tinkah). Dutch-based participants included architects, designers that produce with sustainability in mind, landscape designers, Floriade Natural Pavilion contributors, spatial experts, brand experts, and artists.

The UAE Pavilion hosted an educational workshop with Designathon on Food Security and Agritech, hosting young students from across Amsterdam to explore ways to grow better in harsh environments. This full-day activity was hosted at De Hortus and allowed children to actively learn how to grow greener cities in extreme climates – from short, interactive lessons to a whole afternoon of creating prototypes to grow better for the benefit of all.

The UAE Pavilion hosted a facilitated workshop on “The Future of Where Land Meets Sea: Resiliency and Regenerative Agriculture,” matching experts on soil, water, waste, and agriculture experts to encourage connections and ideation, including UAE participants (Dr Saeed al Hassan and Vishnu Pillai – Manhat; Dr Tarifa al Zaabi – ICBA; Yazen al Kodmani – Emirates Bio Farm; Majid al Qassimi and Greg Ohannesian – Soma Mater). This program challenged Dutch and UAE sustainability leaders to explore what more they can do in their industries, work, and themselves, to support the transition to regenerative agriculture.


To kick off the closing weekend of Floriade, the UAE Pavilion hosted a cooking demonstration at the Floriade greenhouse kitchen on “Embracing Our Halophytes in Everyday Cooking.” The cooking demonstration featured two salicornia recipes shared with over 300 guests. It featured the UAE-based halophyte kitchen of Chef Luca and Dr Tarifa al Zaabi of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture.

Most Educational Exhibition

The UAE Pavilion was awarded the Most Educational Exhibition at the Floriade’s closing ceremony. When the AIPH Secretary General, Tim Briercliffe, handed over the trophy, he congratulated the organisers by saying: “No one could go through Salt Water Cities garden and pavilion without learning so much about the UAE’s challenges and the unique solutions available by using plants. The UAE team cared for every visitor and provided a unique experience at the Expo. It was a wonderful experience.”

Photos: United Arab Emirates Pavilion.
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