UAE 49th National Day Ceremony 2020

Image Cred: Nicolas Chavance from Groupe F
LarMac Live

Making waves with Es Devlin for UAE National Day 2020


We were delighted to have been approached by Jo Mackay from LarMac and Artist and Designer Es Devlin to help bring the awarding winning artist’s stage sculpture to life for UAE National Day 2020. Having worked with Es on a number of projects in the past including the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony, we knew this one would be special. 

Es Devlin’s vision centred around a giant rotating cube surrounded by sea and illuminated by digital visuals portraying themes inspired by the UAE’s rich history. It was our job to look after the technical design of this spectacular centrepiece. But with major time constraints and a global pandemic to contend with, there were moments where it felt like a near impossible task. Es Devlin said on

“We wanted to give nature a foreground role and present it as a protagonist in the show. Our vision was to find a metaphor to express the incredible  journey the UAE has taken in the last 49 years; like the growth and transformation of a seed into a shoot and then finally into full bloom. The Mangroves have also provided a real source of inspiration for the metaphor, with its deep connection to the UAE’s history and traditions.”

After an initial meeting with Es and her team in August 2020, we worked tirelessly alongside creative manufacturers, Stage One to design and deliver the sculpture in just under 2 months. Tim Leigh, Managing Director at Stage One said: 

“We have a great working relationship with Piers at Wonder Works. He has the tricky job of staying true to the design intent whilst also being mindful that any proposal has to be buildable within the timeframe. Fortunately the team was incredibly collaborative, and open to proposing a design that incorporated truss that could be adapted from stock components. This saved time and was a more sustainable approach than creating a structure from scratch.”

One of the biggest technical challenges came with the unique location of the event. Set on the coast of the Jubail Mangrove Park in Abu Dhabi, the 100 tonne rotating cube had to appear to be floating on the sea. But with tides of up to 2 metres, it soon became clear that we needed to create a controlled environment for the sculpture. Working with a fantastic team of local contractors including Al Laith who monitored the tides daily, NDMC (National Marine Dredging Company) built a temporary bund and foundations to allow crane access to get the cube installation underway. Once this was in place NDMC built a larger 4 metre high bund to create a temporary lake around the performance area to protect the sculpture but still honour the original creative vision. Piers Shepperd, Co-Director at Wonder Works said: 

“Reclaiming the sea in this way allowed us to control the tide and create a truly unique venue for the ceremony.”

Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, this major feat was managed remotely from the UK using the Wonder Works team of Technical Designers and Engineers working alongside live event producers, LarMac. Jo MacKay, Co-Director at LarMac said: 

“Not having seen the site until we arrived in the UAE was difficult especially with the ground works required. There have been thousands of hours on Zoom from every department to get to a place where we could build and deliver.” 

Once on the ground, and with just a month until rehearsals, LarMac were faced with the enormous task of managing the event build. Quarantine restrictions meant that they had to rely on Wonder Works’ drawings and Google Earth to get things moving before they could get on site. Luckily they had an incredible team of industry specialists and contractors on hand, including local temporary staging and scaffolding suppliers, Al Laith to help it run smoothly. The result is a truly remarkable show of hope and optimism pulled off by a team of over 500 creative professionals whose hard work and commitment made it all possible. Jo MacKay at LarMac said: 

Being part of such a great project during these Covid times lifted the spirits for many of the people involved. Everyone felt a sense of great achievement to be delivering in such difficult circumstances.”