Review: ‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ takes on a gargantuan challenge

DUBAI: It took more than 200,000 workers and 240 million hours of combined labor to bring the vast Expo 2020 Dubai site to life.

Now, to express thanks to the workforce, a colonnade of 38 columns has been installed at the site’s Jubilee Park, with individual worker’s names carved in stone.

Reem Al-Hashimi, Expo 2020 Dubai’s director-general, had the idea for the Workers’ Monument and asked London-based architect Asif Khan to design the project.

“It’s such a powerful form of recognition, positive energy and kindness. It’s a very human statement, and a reminder that human beings are at the heart of what has been achieved,” Khan told Arab News.

The monument is located at Expo 2020 Dubai’s Jubilee Park. (Supplied)

 “In general, the people who build all these projects that transform the world and our culture are rarely thanked or, if they are, it’s in an impersonal, general way,” he said.

“What we forget when people are working on projects is that their family and friends are part of the process. They make sacrifices.”

Khan, who also designed the Expo’s massive entry portals, met many of the workers on site during the past five years.

“They are from every corner of the world, especially South Asia, and they all got on together,” he recalled.

However, detailing the tribute was no easy task, with spreadsheets that listed hundreds of names — a challenge that Khan saw as a “fascinating anthropological study.”

Duplicate names, alternative spellings, and names that ranged between one and five words were all honored in the final structure. Each circular, two-meter-high column, made of Omani limestone, is like “a book in a library,” where individual workers can find their name.

“When I first visited the site, it was desert. Through the works of these people — brick by brick, centimeter by centimeter — this site was transformed,” Khan said.

“They are like magicians who changed the state of matter.”

The celebratory Dubai tribute is believed to be the first of its kind, with similar monuments traditionally associated with solemnity and loss.

“It’s a monument to the living. In our research, we found no monument of this scale which names every worker individually,” Khan said. “I hope it’s the beginning of being thankful, globally.”

Expo may last for only six months, but the overall site and Workers’ Monument are here to stay, according to Khan, “making sure that future generations knew who made it.”