Dubai Route 2020 Metro Link, UAE

20th December 2021

To mark the arrival of Expo 2020, the Route 2020 Metro Link project is an extension of Dubai’s metro line that welcomes visitors to the Expo site. Lighting for the station extensions came from dpa lighting consultants.

The Route 2020 Metro Link project from Dubai Roads and Transport Authority sees an extension of the Dubai metro service, connecting the interchange at Jebel Ali with the flagship metro station at the Expo 2020 site. Consisting of a 15km extension – of which approximately 12km is above ground and 3km underground – it features seven stations and branches from the existing Red Line.

dpa lighting consultants was approached by the architect Atkins (as part of the original Metro Bid team) to be involved in the project. Responsible for the design and specification of all architectural lighting to the interiors, façades, and landscape for all six new stations and the one existing interchange, the project presented the team with a number of unique lighting challenges, as Lee Sweetman, Director at dpa lighting consultants, explained to arc: “Several challenges presented themselves at each stage of the process, from the differing design languages of each station through to the integration and ongoing maintenance of appropriate lighting equipment,” he said. “Lighting of the prefabricated Expo station canopy was a particular instance and many design interpretations were developed in order to provide the most appropriate solution. Extensive site visits of all existing stations on the Red Line were undertaken to assess the advantages and disadvantages associated with each station theme and type.

“The lighting approach had to be robust enough to allow for the technical considerations but also flexible enough to accommodate each station’s signature architecture and interior design.

“We didn’t attempt to mimic natural daylight in the underground stations either. Each station varied in design and approach and was its own unique element within the overall journey. The interchange station at Jebel Ali was a particular challenge, as an extension building was added to an existing station, thereby putting the existing and contemporary interpretations into close context.”

Earth, Fire, Water and Air were the guiding principles that informed not only the lighting design of the new line stations, but also dictated the architectural language of the new development. Lighting design for the stations was developed alongside the architectural, interior design and engineering teams to enhance the key principles inherent in the original Metro concept, while also maintaining and developing a unique night-time identity for the newly commissioned line. Subtle and contextual lighting interventions were to sit alongside more dynamic and characterful areas in order to balance and contrast the approach to illumination. 

“The challenge was in dovetailing the existing concept schematics with the newer interpretations of the design,” continued Sweetman. “Certain technical guidelines also needed to be incorporated in order to provide safe and navigable levels of illumination to each individual space. Over illumination was always a concern given the conflicting criteria of the technical requirement versus the aesthetic requirement.

“Several design-led features such as the ceiling features and large-scale pendants needed to be balanced in such a way that they maintained their impact without being overbearing. Likewise the architectural lighting needed to ensure that these elements were still visible in the overall scheme.”

The Expo station and its canopy were key considerations throughout the project and represented the primary focus of the lighting design. The canopy in particular, presented a unique opportunity to announce the station and its arrival plazas within an often congested illuminated environment. A subtle, yet sophisticated approach to the illumination of the canopy celebrates the unique colour, contrast, form and texture of this iconic architectural intervention. 

Sweetman added: “The site is densely packed and the lighting design had to take into consideration this potential architectural/lighting conflict. The lighting of the canopy was developed to enhance the colour, form and texture of this striking element while also providing a more sophisticated approach and one that was not overly theatrical. After many lighting trials, the soft, subtle illumination to the underside of the structure was eventually chosen as the most appropriate solution, given the complexities of installation and ongoing maintenance.”

For Sweetman, there was never the worry that by creating something more subtle, the design would get lost among the wider visual noise of the Expo, telling arc: “I believe the structure itself is the main player in the interaction of architecture and light. Light is used to enhance the structure’s character and night-time identity and I believe that this more refined approach to the illumination helps to raise the hierarchy of the canopy above the surrounding architecture.”

This project also represented a rare opportunity to evolve and enhance the after dark identity of Dubai’s critical public transport network, helping to provide cost effective and efficient transit options to wide sections of the local community, commenting Sweetman said: “Once again the architectural form is the main driver of the identity of the new line. Its differential between the existing system is subtle yet noticeable and it was always our intention that the careful and coordinated arrangement of the internal lighting elements would give form to the stations during the hours of darkness.”

This iconic project was ceremonially inaugurated by H.H Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai in July 2020 and became fully operational in the early part of 2021. Reflecting on the project, Sweetman said: “Overall I believe that the design has achieved the required balance between the heritage of the existing line identity coupled with the more contemporary interpretation of the new line. The external identity of all stations has been enhanced while the interior lighting has endeavoured to emphasise the experiential elements of the journey itself across the whole length of the railway extension. In particular, lighting to the Expo canopy and station are significant additions to the overall night-time visitor experience, helping to reflect the great levels of importance and civic pride which the UAE has invested in all aspects of the Expo infrastructure and design.”

Pic: Phil Handforth Architectural Photography