The future of EXPO 2015 sails into troubled waters

Place: Milan, Country: Italy
Text by Riccardo Bianchini, Inexhibit
Photos by Inexhibit
Text by Riccardo Bianchini, Inexhibit
Photos by Inexhibit, 2015

EXPO-2015-Emirates-pavilion-Foster-Inexhibit

Update: October 11, 2015
The Italian minister of Agriculture, Maurizio Martina, has announced that the Italian Government will enter Arexpo (the Expo site owner, a company entirely owned by public institutions) as official partner and that, as anticipated below in this article, the plan is to convert the EXPO site into a research campus managed by the State University of Milan. http://www.mauriziomartina.it/il-governo-entra-nella-societa-che-possiede-larea-di-expo/ (in Italian)
The idea is to create “our Max Plank Institute for the energy for life” (which presumably refers to the famous Max Plank scientific center in Munich. No further details on the project are provided). The costs of this re-development and whether they will be based on public funds, private ones or a mix of the two, are still unclear; nevertheless, similar projects developed in the past years in Italy suggest that taxpayers’ money could play a relevant role in the operation.
The minister also anticipated that the Zero Pavilion and the Italy Pavilion will be probably retained as “examples of the good job done”. For sure, considering this change of perspective and given that the re-development of the EXPO site after the end of event was originally planned to be at no costs for the community, the debate will become even hotter than it currently is.


The future of the EXPO Milan 2015 site sails into troubled waters
by Riccardo Bianchini, Inexhibit

The 2015 Word Exposition in Milan will end soon, and the debate on the future of its 12 million-square-foot site after the end of EXPO, in late October, is increasingly harsh, with a quite diverse set of proposals arising.

EXPO 2015 is located in what formerly was a disused industrial and warehousing site at the northern edge of the Milan metropolitan area, just north of the Rho-Pero Milan Fair. Although in theory connected to the city center by the underground, the tramway and a cycle lane, the site is nevertheless quite marginal both in a urban and in a psychological sense. Many believe it would be quite unlike that the “Milanesi” will consider it as a somehow regular destination, after the end of the exposition, at least without relocating some very attractive functions there.

Cover image: the United Arab Emirates pavilion by Norman Foster, photo © Inexhibit, 2015

expo site location Milan 2

The  red dot indicated the position of the EXPO 2015 site at the northern edge of the MIlan urban area

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The EXPO MIlano 2015 main alley, called the “Decumano”; photo © Inexhibit, 2015

The original masterplan, never fully adopted, by Stefano Boeri, Jacques Herzog, Richard Burdett and William MacDonough, was featuring a much larger extent of green areas and waterways, compared to what you can see today, nevertheless it generically envisaged a future “botanic and agricultural park…with housing blocks and a sustainable-development research center, maybe also a National Television production center” (http://stefanoboeri.net/?p=766&lang=it) for the after-expo site development, which honestly seems more a hope than a proper strategy.

The only pavilion conceived to remain after the Expo is the Italian one, a huge white concrete box with a floor surface of almost 14,000 square meters (150,000 square feet more or less); though there are no plans on what it could be used for. Someone suggests to transform it in a university facility, some others as in an exhibition venue; in any case the cost of the reconversion would be rather substantial.

But to adapt the Italian pavilion to a future use is a child’s play, compared to finding a function (and the consequential funding) for the remaining 1.09 million square meters the World’s Exhibition site extends on.

expo milan 2015 site map Inexhibit low

The site of EXPO Milano 2015

By first, a key question is whether to retain the current national pavilions and service buildings (amounting to about one hundred constructions, of different materials and building techniques) or to dismantle them and clear up the site.

The participating countries are bound to disassemble all their custom-made pavilions and empty the lot by June 2016, seven months after the Word’s Fair closure.
Thus, every alternative strategy should be elaborated quite quickly, otherwise the dismantling costs will be charged on the organizer, instead that on each country, and we are talking of several millions Euros, as well as of a spine-chilling waste management procedure.

Some countries have already prepared a re-use strategy for their pavilions, for example Switzerland has designed it to be easily converted into 4 greenhouses to be relocated in different cities of the Confederation, and the Emirates devised to disassemble their pavilion, designed by Sir Norman Foster, to subsequently re-assemble it in Masdar City. But, looking at the other buildings, it is very unlike that all of them are really suitable for a painless reconversion.

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The 150,000 square-foot Italian pavilion by Studio Nemesi,  photo © Inexhibit, 2015

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The Swiss pavilion,  photo © Inexhibit, 2015

Another point is that a functional and business plan for the re-use of the site is missing. In November 2014, a call for tenders to acquire and re-develop the site in the upcoming years got deserted, no private companies demonstrated an interest for this matter. Now the landlord, the publicly-owned company Arexpo, is looking for a different solution, the most credited proposal is to convert the whole area into an University campus, which presumably means to inject hundreds of millions Euros of taxpayers’ money into the re-qualification project. Ouch.

A different proposal, advanced by the Governor of the Lombardy region, Roberto Maroni, is to create a “City of Sports” with an Athletics Stadium, swimming pools, residences for the youth and an Ice Arena, all funded by the Italian Olympic Committee. This promised to be ever more expensive that the University Campus.

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The Czech pavilion,  photo © Inexhibit, 2015

Another idea is to leave on site as many pavilions as possible, and to adapt them to some new function, for example as part of a site permanently dedicated to food.
The problem is that the pavilions, almost all of them, have been conceived as temporary buildings, which suggests that the maintenance cost would be prohibitive.
Furthermore, most pavilions have been clearly tailored around the exhibition every country prepared for the EXPO, not many of them could be adapted to showcase something different, without complex and expensive renovation works.

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The pavilions of Poland and of Banca Intesa,  photo © Inexhibit, 2015

A simple question promptly comes to mind: why a serious reconversion strategy was not prepared in advance?

Does still make sense to organize a seven-month-long event that extends over twelve millions square feet, and which organization costs amounts at least to one and a half billion Euros, in the absence of a detailed business and urban plan envisaging what to do in the future with the exhibition site, and with all the structures that have been built on it?

The theme of the EXPO 2015 is “Feeding the planet, energy for life”; I deem that a responsible use of the, quite relevant, natural, physical, mental and economical resources,
expended for an event devoted to such subjects, should be no less than mandatory.

Nothing can really be considered carbon-neutral, zero-impact buildings are fool’s gold, therefore the real point is how to get a reasonable balance between resource consumption and a positive outcome, capable of driving beneficial, and enduring, effects on people. This is the true challenge of EXPO Milano 2015, now.


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