Sunday, July 19, 2015

International Exposition - Italian style...

expo tree 1
For the 1889 World's Fair, Paris got the Eiffel Tower. For the 1958 World's Fair, Brussels got the Atomium. For the 1962 World's Fair, Seattle got the Space Needle. And for the 2015 World's Fair, Milan got... This. The Tree of Life, as it's called, is intended as the symbol of the Milan International Exposition. Not sure it will have the same broad impact or longevity as the some of the other symbols, but it's certainly in keeping with Milan's more low key approach. Photo ©Darren Bradley
It's hard to believe that it's already been five years since Expo 2010 in Shanghai. I was lucky enough to be able to attend that event, and it completely blew me away. The sights, the sounds, the architecture, the people, the city... It was sensory overload, and I loved every second of it. So I was very excited when I learned that the next Expo would be in Milan in 2015 (International Expos are held every five years, with smaller events held in the interim, on occasion). I immediately began making plans to attend, which I did at the beginning of July this year. 

But what I found in Milan was something completely different than what I'd seen in Shanghai - both in scale and style. 

pavilion zero
Visitors to Milan's Pavilion Zero are greeted with this massive library when entering, and pass under the arches to enter the fair.
Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo pavilion zero 1
Pavilion Zero was designed by Michele de Lucchi, one of the fathers of the post-modern Memphis design movement. Visitors would pass across the roof of the pavilion here. Note the "Tree of Life", which is the theme and symbol of the fair.
Photo ©Darren Bradley

It's probably not fair to compare the Expos in Shanghai and Milan. After all, the two cities (and countries) are completely different - both their cultures and their resources and means. 

Chinese Pavilion
The China Pavilion in Shanghai was simply massive, and also served as the primary symbol of the event. Photo ©Darren Bradley

When China held the Expo in 2010, it used the event as a means to show the world just how wealthy and powerful the country had become, and how modern. 

Shanghai World Expo Cultural Center
Shanghai used the Expo as a catalyst for building lots of new infrastructure in the city, such as this brand new stadium arena in the form of a flying saucer. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The Expo was absolutely huge - five times as large as the Milan expo site - and even small countries put up enormous, extravagant pavilions seemingly trying to one-up each other. 

denmark pavilion
The Danish Pavilion at Shanghai, with its cantilevered concentric ramps and bicycles to ride up and down them, was a stand-out crowd favorite. It was designed by Bjarke Ingels. Denmark did not even participate in Milan's Expo. Photo ©Darren Bradley
It seemed as if nearly every "starchitect" on the planet had designed something. In fact, Jacques Herzog of Herzog & De Meuron said of Shanghai that "you were blinded by the amount of design..." I personally didn't think that was a bad thing, but Herzog didn't mean that in a good way. 

Inside the UK Pavilion
Heatherwick's design for the UK pavilion at Shanghai was my favorite. A stunning, minimalist design for a "seed cathedral" that incorporated large perspex rods that pierced the walls of the pavilion, carrying in light. At the end of each rod was a single variety of seed, encased in the perspex. Photo ©Darren Bradley.

Remembering Expo 2010
Holland's pavilion at Shanghai was an entire village cantilevered over a series of spiral ramps, suspended over the fairgrounds. It was quite mad, and brilliant. Like a fun house. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo holland 1
For Milan, Holland took a much more scaled down approach, but the carnival party atmosphere continues. Photo ©Darren Bradley

For Milan, the theme was about food and feeding the planet in a sustainable way. So the planning team (which included Herzog & de Meuron) were intentionally seeking a more low-key approach that was less about design and more about sustainability and legacy (i.e. how will the site be used after the expo). 

Herzog & de Meuron's concept for the Milan Expo included extensive use of canals, referencing Milan's historic character as a canal city. About US$70M was invested in building canals at the site until engineers realized that there was not sufficient water pressure to sustain them, and the plan was abandoned. There are a few canals at the site, but they are not used. 

The end result is a fair that is much smaller, and more human-scaled. The grandiose national pavilions with bleeding-edge architectural innovations that Herzog & de Meuron and the Expo organizers discouraged are minimized  This was a disappointment to me, because it has always been my favorite part of attending Expos (I've attended several over the years). 

expo childrens 1
View of the Children's pavilions, set alongside some of the now abandoned canals. These were off the main strip, and not well frequented. I didn't actually see any children present at them - or anyone else save a few bored employees. Photo ©Darren Bradley

But gone also were the huge crowds and eternal, slow-moving lines of people snaking all over the place. The Chinese attended the Shanghai Expo by the tens of millions. Even the most insignificant and boring pavilion - such as a pavilion by the Chinese state oil company - would have a five-hour line to get in. Attendees were paying people to stand in lines for them, and vendors selling little portable stools were doing a brisk business. It meant that after two days in Shanghai, I had only seen the interiors of about a half-dozen pavilions. 

USA Pavilion
View of the long lines snaking around the USA Pavilion in Shanghai. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo usa
In Milan, no waiting for USA Pavilion (or any other pavilion). Note the size difference of the pavilions, as well. The USA Pavilion in Shanghai was much larger. Biber Architects. Photo ©Darren Bradley

In Milan, the Italians in the city had warned me about huge crowds and misery. But Italians clearly have a different idea about what a huge crowd is. In fact, the place was not crowded at all during the day, and we were free to wander in and out of nearly every pavilion at our leisure, without any lines at all. 

expo slovenia 1
Slovenia has one of the more interesting designs for its pavilion, and has a DJ blasting Slovenian rock and pop songs out front all afternoon, which made for a lively ambiance. They were also giving out stickers that said "I FEEL sLOVEnia", which are plastered everywhere, making them the winner of the guerrilla marketing award. Architects: SoNo Arhitekti. Photo ©Darren Bradley

In the evenings, the place would get more crowded as the locals would show up for dinner and see a few pavilions, but it was still easy to get around. Alas, in the evenings, the mosquitos also came out in force... 

expo china 1
China's pavilion at the Milan expo seems to have taken a page from what Spain had designed for the Shanghai Expo, using woven sticks and wood beams as the principal structure. Architects: Tsinghua University and Studio Link-Arc. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo china 2
Interior of China's pavilion at Milan Expo this year, with LED light rods that form images on the ground, similar to what they'd done for the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Spanish Pavilion
Spain's pavilion at Shanghai Expo in 2010. Note the similarities with China's design for Milan in 2015. Also, note the huge crowd waiting to get in. There were no lines in Milan. Photo ©Darren Bradley

We were also worried about the extreme heat at the fairgrounds. In Shanghai, there was a covered central walkway. But most of the pavilions were not along this walkway, and the whole event was more spread out. That meant that to get to each of the pavilions, you needed to walk in direct sun, and wait in lines in direct sun - for hours. I thought I was going to die of heat exhaustion, and my feet were killing me by the end of the day. 

In Milan, all of the pavilions were arranged along the central walkway, which was covered by canopies along the entire one-kilometer passage. So there was hardly a time when you were in the sun, and we were always comfortable, despite the 90-degree weather and high-humidity. 

expo tents
Nearly all of the pavilions in Milan are arranged along a central avenue with this canopy. In the original Herzog & de Meuron concept, there were communal tables arranged along the center where the pavilions would place fresh produce grown at each pavilion for the crowds to taste, like a communal dining table. That was scrapped in favor of static displays representing various agricultural industries (farming, livestock, fishing, etc.). Photo ©Darren Bradley

The downside to Milan is that the pillars and supports for the canopy system create obstructions for photographing the pavilions. So finding angles to get a nice, clean shot where it wasn't an issue was challenging and sometimes impossible. In Shanghai, the pavilions were presented and sited in a way that they were meant to be photographed. In Milan, they clearly were not. This drove me a bit mad at times. 

expo bahrain 1
The Bahrain pavilion has a mid-century modern feel to it that I really liked. Note the presence of the canopy supports blocking my view. I didn't have the patience to try to clone them out in Photoshop. Architect: Studio Anne Holtrop. Photo ©Darren Bradley

As far as the pavilions, they were more subdued than in Shanghai, or other expos I'd attended. Some kept with traditional architecture... 

expo oman
The Omanis took a traditional cue for their pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo qatar
Qatar also went traditional, with a castle and market bazaar, and a giant woven basket in the middle. Inside the basket was a spiral ramp with a laser show. Photo ©Darren Bradley

While others went modern, while evoking tradition. 
expo turkey 1
The hazelnuts were really good at the Turkey Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo turkey 2
Turkey Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo vietnam 4
Vietnam Pavilion. Architects: Vo Trong Nghia. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo vietnam 2
Vietnam Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

And others went very modern and minimalist. 
expo lithuania 1
Lithuania Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo germany 1
Doing the Hokey Pokey at the Germany Pavilion. Architects: SCHMIDHUBER + Milla & Partner + Nüssli. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo kuwait 1
The Kuwait Pavilion evoked sails of a ship. Many of the pavilions used inexpensive sails or canopies in their designs. Architects: Studio Italo Rota. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo chile 3
Chile Pavilion. Architect: Cristián Undurraga. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo spanish pavilion
Spain Pavilion. Architects: b720 Designs. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo mexico 1
Mexico Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo monaco 1
Monaco is somewhat out of character with their grunge, post-industrial pavilion. Architect: Enrico Pollini. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo argentina 1
Argentina also went industrial. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Many are little more than large boxes filled with information about the products made by that country - such as tractors, or vacuum cleaners, oriental rugs, or speedboats. 

Italy really wants you to buy more ham. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo italy industry pavilion
Italy also wants you to know about their innovative glass industry. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Turkmenistan wants you to know about their new communications satellite that they built and launched recently. What they didn't mention was that they've also recently banned all satellite dishes in the country. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo bird sculpture
You never know what kind of random shit you're going to find inside these pavilions. In Slovakia's pavilion, there was this giant bird sculpture made of knives and spoons that looked like something out of Game of Thrones, and a giant painted egg. There were also naked female mannequins on which people were encouraged to write messages of good will. 
Photo ©Darren Bradley

I was very pleased to see several countries emphasize apiculture and the importance of bees to our environment. This was in the Oman pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

But some of them decided to create more artistic statements, or at least more entertaining, despite the guidance from Expo organizers to tone down the designs. Here is Brazil...

expo brazil 1
Architect Arthur Casas and Studio Marko Brajovic turned Brazil's pavilion into a jungle gym, with a large net suspended over a greenhouse, that visitors are encouraged to climb (but not jump or run!). Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo brazil 2
Scaling the net of the Brazil pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo brazil 4
View from under the net at the Brazil Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

And France... 
expo france 1
Photobombing kid in front of the France Pavilion. Architects: Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazieres.
Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo france 2
All of the products of French agriculture were represented inside. Photo ©Darren Bradley

And Russia, with their over-the-top design...

expo russia 1
My cantilever is bigger than your cantilever. Architects: SPEECH. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo russia 3
Yes, you can see yourself if you look up. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo russia 4
Russian plants. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo russia bar
Mad scientists mixing craft cocktails at the Russia Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo russia
The ideal spot to plot world domination. Russia Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

And many others...

expo korea 1
South Korea focused on fermentation, with a giant pot of kimchi, and a narrative about how kimchi would save the world.
Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo korea 2
Swirling pots of kimchi as you exit the Korea Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo czech 1
The Czech Paviliion was fairly minimalist, save for the strange half-bird, half-car fountain thing in the front. Architects: Chybik + Kristof. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo czech 2
Inside the Czech Pavilion is a representation of a miniature Czech forest, with high-powered video cameras that display - in real time - photosynthesis of the plants. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo azerbaijan 1
Azerbaijan's bubbles reminded me of mini versions of the California Academy of Sciences. Architects: Simmetrico Network. 
Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo azerbaijan 3
More of Azerbaijan's bubbles. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo azerbaijan 2
Inside Azerbaijan's pavilion. These LED tulip things were everywhere, and would illuminate when you passed your hands over the top of them. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo estonia 1
Estonia is competing with Russia (whose pavilion is next door) for largest cantilever. Architects: Kardarik & Tüür. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo estonia 2
Estonia's design incorporates wooden swings on the ground level. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo estonia 3
A plethora of pine inside the interior courtyard of the Estonia Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo malaysia 1
The giant eggs of the Malaysian Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo malaysia 2
The psychedelic rainforest inside the Malaysian Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The Polish Pavilion was a nice surprise. They used what looked like apple crates for the facade, and took you up a long staircase that made you enter through the roof. Around the corner was a rooftop forest with mirrors all around the walls that looked like a typical polish landscape. 

expo polish pavilion
Entrance to the Poland Pavilion. Architect: Studio 2PM. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo poland 3
Surprise Polish landscape. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo poland 4
The theater below is showing a very good, interesting, but also rather depressing animated film on the history of Poland, which includes many of the times they've been screwed over by neighboring countries throughout their history. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The Austrians had a similar concept with their theme, "Breathe", which took visitors on a meandering path through a courtyard filled with an Austrian forest. 

expo austria 1
Austrian forest by Team Breathe Austria. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The UAE again opted for a pavilion that emulated the desert terrain of their country, and was also beautiful, and was a standout for design. 

expo uae 1
UAE Pavilion by Foster + Partners, emulating the sandstone and dunes of the country. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo uae 2
UAE Pavilion included displays set up within little pocket canyons. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo uae 3
UAE Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

UAE Pavilion
UAE Pavilion in Shanghai in 2010 took on a similar theme of desert landscape. Photo ©Darren Bradley

To my eye, the best design was the UK pavilion - just like in Shanghai. Rather than being literal, they made a stunningly beautiful artistic statement that was also an important message about the importance of bees in our society. Minimalism wins the day. 

expo uk 1
Abstract metal sculpture representing a bee hive for the UK Pavilion. Architect/Artist: Wolfgang Buttress.
Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo UK pavilion
UK Pavilion, inside the hive. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo uk 3
Looking up, from inside the hive. UK Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo uk 2
At night, the hive of the UK Pavilion can be more clearly seen by the blinking lights, which are linked to a real hive in Nottingham.
Photo ©Darren Bradley

But Japan probably put the most effort of any country into the presentations and messaging of their pavilion. Rather than allowing visitors to roam freely about the pavilion, looking at tiny scale models of products made in that country or whatever, they created a guided tour through a series of rooms with various artistic films and light shows, that started with a subdued short film about disappearing birds using traditional Japanese calligraphy, and culminating with an Iron Chef-like culinary extravaganza in a sort of kitchen stadium "Restaurant of the Future". 

expo japan 1
Lily pads at the Japan Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo japan 2
The Fountain of Knowledge. Japan Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo japan
Intricate wood lattice work outside the Japan Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

One thing about International Expositions is that pretty much every country can participate, regardless of their international status. In Shanghai, the Axis of Evil had their own section. 

The Axis of Evil apparently had its own section
Pavilions were arranged in alphabetical order, more or less, which left Iran and North Korea as appropriate neighbors in Shanghai. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Inside the North Korea Pavilion
North Korea's pavilion in Shanghai included sculptures of naked dancing children around a fountain, a large phallic pillar, and lots of plastic plants. There was also an inscription on the wall which read "PARADISE OF THE PEOPLE". Photo ©Darren Bradley

In Milan, Iran was present with a sophisticated pavilion, but North Korea was relegated to a tiny little shared stand way in the back, selling a few trinkets. 

expo iran 1
Iran's pavilion at Milan Expo is quite nice. Architects: NJP, LAD. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo iran 2
Iran's pavilion focused on Kish Island, which is a major resort in the Islamic Republic. It's also the location from which American Bob Levinson (suspected to have been a US intelligence agent) disappeared in 2007. Photo ©Darren Bradley

But Turkmenistan was also present to ensure the dictatorship contingent was well represented. 

expo turkmenistan pavilion
Turkmenistan's President-for-Life, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, orders you to have a wonderful time at his pavilion.
Photo ©Darren Bradley

Turkmenistan is the country whose leader had previously changed the names of the days of the week to himself and his family members. He died and his successor promised moderation, and changed them back. He also took down the giant gold statue of the previous dictator, but soon put up a new one with himself on horseback, instead. 

Turkmenistan President Statue-1
Turkmenistan's President-for-Life is honored by his adoring public with a giant statue of himself on horseback, dressed in traditional warrior garb. Photo by Reuters. 

In addition to the pavilions by individual countries, there were corporate pavilions, representing food industry, real estate developers, power companies, etc. 

Moretti beer was one of the sponsors. Photo ©Darren Bradley
the waterways
Intesa San Paolo, one of Italy's largest banks, put up their own pavilion. Architect: Michele de Lucchi. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo rosso 1
The Alessandro Rosso Group does building operation and management, and were contracted by many countries to build and operate their pavilions. Their own pavilion was a dance club of sorts. Architect: Simone Micheli. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo vanke 2
Vanke is a real estate development group in China. Why they have a pavilion at Milan isn't quite clear. But they asked architect Daniel Libeskind to design it. Photo ©Darren Bradley
venke pavilion
Vanke Pavilion. Photo ©Darren Bradley

expo vanke 3
Inside the Vanke Pavilion, with bamboo scaffolding that evokes the system used to build in China still today. Photo ©Darren Bradley
expo china commercial 1
China is well represented in Milan. This is a corporate pavilion for Chinese Industry. Photo ©Darren Bradley

italian food pavilion
COPAGRI Pavilion for Italian Food, by EMBT Architects. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Overall, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Milan - both the city and the Expo. They've done a tremendous job and should be proud of their efforts. My family, who accompanied me (all of these photos were really just taken by me on the fly, as I followed them around the Expo grounds), had not visited previous Expos, and had nothing to compare it to. But they loved the experience. It was a great way for my daughter to learn a lot about foreign countries and their cultures and customs, too. 

The next International Expo is planned for Dubai in 2020. I fully expect it to be a return to the over-the-top design orgy that represented Shanghai in 2010, rather than the more subdued, laid-back version that Milan has put together. Check in to my blog in five years to find out! I'll be there. 

Artist's rendering of the centerpiece of the planned Dubai World's Fair in 2020. 


heritagpoliceman said...

So much wood ! Assume it was / will all be recycled appropriately.

Boris said...

Thank you, maestro, for the tour. Even reading this and taking in the photos was overwhelming. Indeed, your cantilever is bigger.


Unknown said...

The Expo continues through October, but I'm sure the wood will be recycled.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Boris. I was almost dreading putting this post together, because of the amount of work involved in processing all the photos and putting my thoughts into some sort of semi-coherent narrative. I'm glad you enjoyed the tour.

Unknown said...

Really fantastic photos. Enjoyed reading your comments- and spotting the girls in some of the pictures!

Unknown said...

Thanks, Heidi! Sorry we missed you guys in France. Would love to catch up sometime soon over the summer.

Boris said...

Re cantilevers.
I kept thinking I have seen this cantilever before. Just now, I saw Archdaily posted an excellent collection of photos of Russian architect Melnikov, at

Is it possible the "Rusakov Workers' Club" gave an idea to this ... structure?

Unknown said...

I know that some of the same ideas were incorporated from Russia's pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and I believe it was the same architect for both. As for Melnikov as inspiration, I hadn't thought of that but it's certainly plausible!

billy said...

Thanks Darren, that was fun. Did you do all of this in a day? The pictures for "on the fly" are excellent.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Billy! I actually spent two days at Expo, but was with my family both days. But yes, all of the photos are taken while just walking around with them, as a tourist. They are in many of the shots, if you look closely.

Unknown said...

Hi Mr Darren Bradley,
I'm Architect from Iran. First of all, I want to say thank you for your complete tour of expo Milan. I'm going to expo in October, now I'm publishing a book about expo. I found your photos interesting to share in this book. If it is possible for you, we can do it.

this is my email address. thanks in advance.

kk said...

Hi, I would like to make a gift for Christmas with Expo 2015 Milan photos.
Is there a book I can buy with your beautiful pictures of Expo?
Thank you!

Turbo IT Solutions said...

So Beautiful designs . Thank you for sharing.

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