EXPO AND ARCHITECTURE – which one will be the most innovative pavilion?

written by Valentina Rutigliano

The Universal Exposition is a cultural exhibition that aims at being the expression and the testimony to its own age. Ideally, it should promote communication and cooperation among people and nations on a globally crucial and significant issue, so as to improve human condition and exchange knowledge, projects and ideas. As most of you already know, the theme chosen for Expo 2015 is Feeding the Planet, that is how to create the conditions to guarantee everyone sufficient and good-quality food, preserving at the same time resources for the next generations.
Since in these days the work for the pavilions is in progress, and the first reports are being let out, it’s interesting to start looking at some examples of how the nations that will partake in the World’s Fair are interpreting and developing the concept of sustainability and resource-saving with their architectonic projects.
Malaysian pavilion, for example, has the shape of a rice grain and the seeds that generate the rain forest trees. The structure is made of glued laminated timber –sometimes called Glulam- that reduces the overall amount of wood used when compared to solid sawn timbers, without relying on old-growth trees. The ramps that link the seeds with one another will be made of rice chaff (the “peel” of the grain) that is discarded in the refining process. Since chaff is rich in silicon oxide, a fundamental component of concrete, its potential as construction material has been well known for decades, but only in recent years researchers have actually managed to produce this ecological concrete.
China, which is building the second biggest pavilion after Germany, has thought of a natural and harmonic location, where the daylight and the air that penetrate from the central hole reduce the airing and ventilation consumption. The heart of the structure is supposed to be surrounded by a giant plant-wall cylinder.
In general, the tendency seems to be towards recycled and recyclable materials (the latter is the case of Azerbaijani pavilion, made of 100% recyclable wood and crystal balls) and energy-saving-oriented solution. The Swiss project stands out by creativity and originality: four 14-meters-tall towers will be filled up with water, salt, coffee and dried apple slices respectively, representing Swiss sustainability, responsibility, innovation and tradition. Visitors can make use of the products, but as they do so, the platforms that sustain the towers sink, modifying the structure of the pavilion. Since the towers will not be refilled during the event, the visitors are led to mind their consumption patterns: the more they will grab, the less will be available to others.

Finally, I cannot go on without mentioning Palazzo Italia, one of the few buildings that will be a permanent legacy of the Universal Exposition. Its structure, that imitates a forest, encompasses experimental and innovative solutions about renewable energies. The engineer that dealt with the energetic part of the project defines the Italian pavilion as “an energy accumulator in which the casing is also an active part of the production”. In fact, the panels of the architectonic forest will be made of a special biodynamic cement that looks like marble and is composed by 80% of recycled materials, and, above all, when hit by sunlight its “Tx Active” principle captures some of the polluting agents of the air, helping keep it free from smog. Unfortunately, the engineers have already said that some solutions will not be implemented due to the short time by which the building needs to be ready. The cutting-edge project would have been an experimental example of great international visibility; for sure, this will remain one of our great regrets related to the questionable way we have managed the Expo.