• Sabeel2020

The Sabeel Fountains, a series of almost 40 aesthetically eye-catching drinking fountains designed to both refresh and wow visitors to the world’s biggest cultural gathering, can be found across the public spaces of the Expo 2020 site.

From one fountain designed to resemble a beautiful letterbox, complete with an embossed letter by its artist, to another that features a mini ‘natural world’, the innovative Sabeel Fountains are contemporary artistic interpretations of the traditional Emirati drinking fountain – sabeel. They reflect the country’s heritage and its spirit of hospitality, tolerance and generosity.

The initiative is a collaboration between Expo 2020 and Art Jameel that began in September 2019, with the Sabeel 2020 open call. The design contest, which received more than 100 proposals, was overseen by an internationally renowned jury, who selected and awarded two design collaboratives – UAE-based creative studio Architecture + Other Things and design team Faissal El-Malak and Alia Bin Omair.

Their designs, Water in the Green and Nahel respectively, collectively known as Signature Fountains, have been reproduced, with a total of 37 fountains throughout the public spaces of Expo 2020. Water in the Green combines robust materials with plants that highlight Expo 2020’s aim to be the most sustainable World Expo in history, while Nahel features motifs of humankind, nature and technology connecting in harmony, illustrating Expo’s subthemes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability.

Expo 2020 also invited two contemporary artists, Nasir Nasrallah and Dana Awartani, to create iconic larger drinking fountains, known as Artistic Fountains. Nasrallah’s Letter to Water can be seen as a love letter to water, while Awartani’s The Well resembles a stone well.

The Sabeel Fountains invite millions of visitors to discover the centuries-old tradition of how, through public drinking fountains, Emiratis share their water with people in need. The fountains will leave a lasting impact as part of the next World Expo’s legacy, living on after Expo’s doors close as part of the human-centric future city of District 2020.

The Sabeel Fountains are operating with enhanced health and safety measures, including the integration of  hands-free sensor taps into all of the designs instead of push buttons, and the incorporation of bottle filler taps in lieu of bubblers.

Running until 31 March 2022, Expo 2020 is inviting visitors from across the planet to join the making of a new world during a six-month celebration of human ingenuity, innovation, progress and culture.



Sabeel 2020 is a programme that set out to produce uniquely and innovatively designed drinking water fountains for the Expo 2020 Dubai site and its legacy.

On November 11, 2019 at Jameel Arts Centre, Expo 2020 announced two winners: UAE-based Architecture + Other Things [practice], and Alia Bin Omair and Faissal El-Malak [duo]. An honourable mention was awarded to Dubai- and London-based firm Tinkah. The winning designs will be mass-produced and installed across various locations throughout the Expo 2020 site, and will remain as part of the Expo 2020 legacy.

Drawing from the Expo 2020 theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ and subthemes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability, Sabeel 2020 was a chance to build new creative collaborations and concepts, and further served to provide major opportunities for the UAE creative sector.

Expo 2020 and Art Jameel thank all entrants of the Sabeel 2020 competition. Details about the winners’ announcement can be found here.

The Sabeel 2020 open call ran from July to September 2019.

A prize of AED 100,000 will be paid to each successful applicant selected as a winner.


Inspired by the notion of the sabeel, the programme set out to reimagine the traditional drinking fountain as an iconic design for the Expo 2020 public space, harmoniously integrating both art and design elements.

A sabeel is a community water fountain that provides relief to passersby and travellers, and that symbolises our collective responsibility and solidarity with people in our community and humanity as a whole.

Sabeel 2020 builds on the concept of shared humanity and solidarity, and seeks to celebrate water as our common good, while incorporating the Expo 2020 subthemes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability.

Designers, architects, artists and creatives were invited to reinterpret the sabeel as an iconic feature of the Expo 2020 public realm. The winning design(s) should have the capacity to push one’s understanding of the sabeel in a contemporary, creative way, while maintaining the functionality of a fully operational drinking fountain.


The Sabeel 2020 competition invited practitioners who:

  • Work as designers, architects, artists or within other creative industries
  • Have experience working in the public realm to brief or commission
  • Demonstrate an ability to design a work that is suitable for permanent public display
  • Display awareness of environmental concerns and a commitment to the key principles that inform Expo 2020’s overall sustainability strategy
  • Embrace conceptual and visual ideas/designs that are wholly original, dynamic, carefully considered and contextually appropriate
  • Have a proven track record of adhering to budgets and deadlines
  • Are from or are based in the UAE, including UAE nationals, long-term residents and those with a demonstrable and sustained relationship with the UAE and its values

Design proposals were required to:

  • Consider the architecture and environment of Expo 2020’s site and visitor usability, including public health and safety standards
  • Be robust enough to withstand high levels of usage, considering a projected 150,000 daily visitors to Expo 2020
  • Stand out conceptually, artistically and technically
  • Engage meaningfully with a broad, contemporary audience base, and encourage interactivity and engagement
  • Provide a memorable, captivating focal point that will bring the concept of the sabeel to life in a non-literal way
  • Show some flexibility in terms of concept as well as adaptability to place, design and install
  • Consider availability of materials locally and have the capacity to be produced within a budget commensurate to benchmarked standards for a drinking fountain in the UAE market
  • Meet the deadlines of the application, production and installation processes outlined here

Further technical requirements and health and safety regulations are listed here.

Application process

The application form was to be completed online. Submissions had to include:

  • A brief introduction to the applicant and his/her practice (in Arabic or English, max. 500 words)
  • A summary that highlights the applicant’s relevant experience of working to brief or commission for projects in the public realm (in Arabic or English, max. 500 words)
  • A statement on the applicant’s approach to addressing this project’s brief (in Arabic or English, max. 500 words)
  • A draft budget in PDF format (in English, in AED)
  • Up to three high-resolution concept drawings of the proposed design
  • Up to three high-resolution preliminary technical drawings of the proposed design
  • A PDF containing up to 10 images/videos of the applicant’s relevant previous work, accompanied by captions summarising each work shown


Expo 2020 will cover the production costs, whereby applicants were requested to aim to conceive designs that are commensurate to benchmarked standards for a drinking fountain in the UAE market without compromising the design aesthetic (excluding the internal unit, plinth, infrastructure connections and installation costs).

Learn more about Sabeel 2020 below:

About Expo 2020

Our once-in-a-lifetime celebration – the largest event ever staged in the Arab world – is set to welcome 192 participating countries and millions of visitors from across the globe. Here they will experience warm Emirati hospitality at its finest, as well as the UAE’s values of inclusion, tolerance and cooperation. Youth are at the heart of our World Expo. That’s why Expo 2020 aspires to create a meaningful legacy that will benefit generations to come, both locally and globally, spanning everything from innovations and architecture to friendships and business opportunities. Learn more.

About Art Jameel

Art Jameel supports artists and creative communities. Current initiatives include running heritage institutes and restoration programmes, plus a broad range of arts and educational initiatives for all ages. The organisation’s programmes foster the role of the arts in building open, connected communities; at a time of flux and dramatic societal shifts, this role is understood as more crucial than ever. Learn more.

For more information, please contact sabeel2020@artjameel.org