Sustainable pavilions highlighted at Expo Milano

Mexican pavilion
© Margaret Badore

Making an event on the scale of a World’s fair sustainable is no small challenge, as the exposition calls for temporary everything, from buildings down to the spoons and straws. But for Expo Milano, this year’s World’s fair, the organizers have tried to lessen the impact of the six-month event.

To encourage the pavilion designers to work to create more sustainable designs, the Expo organizers issued a set of guidelines for building and for procurement. Gloria Zavatta, an organizer for sustainability programs at the Expo, said that 11 of the pavilions feature photovoltaic panels, and about 35 of the pavilions use some form of solar energy, such as solar water heaters. About 56 percent of the pavilions feature green roofs that cover half or more of their rooftop area. Out of the 96 self-built pavilions, 83 have laid out a plan for reusing their structure or recycling its materials. She said the Expo hopes to work with the remaining 13 to create a recycling plan.

While all pavilions must comply to certain minimum standards, organizers also launched a voluntary program called “Towards a Sustainable Expo,” which will give pavilions with the best sustainability practices a leadership award. Last Friday, a number of the pavilions participating in that program were highlighted in honor of World Environment Day. Mexico, Ireland and New Holland Agriculture where among the day's honorees. The final awards will be given out later this year.

The pavilions are judged based on the building design and the materials used, as well as their food and beverage services, furniture, merchandise, and event programming.


Sustainable pavilions highlighted at Expo Milano © Kara Brussen. Mexico’s pavilion at Expo Milano.

Sustainable pavilions highlighted at Expo Milano © Margaret Badore. Mexico’s pavilion at Expo Milano.

Mexico’s pavilion is inspired by corn, a staple of the country’s diet. The shape of the structure is modeled on a corn husk, designed by Francisco López Guerra Almada and Jorge Vallejo. The husks allow some light to enter the interior, while still providing shade.

Sustainable pavilions highlighted at Expo Milano © Margaret Badore. Art inspired by the cultivation of corn in Mexico’s pavilion at Expo Milano.

Inside, a series of slanting walkways lead the visitor though an exhibit that highlights the arts, agriculture and food production of Mexico. According to the architects, the design is inspired by a gravity-based water management system, used in the state of Texcoco during the rule of Nezahualcoyotl in the pre-colonial era. To mimic this passive water, a small cooling waterfall cascades through the center of the space.


Sustainable pavilions highlighted at Expo Milano © Margaret Badore. Ireland’s pavilion at Expo Milano.

The theme of Ireland’s pavilion is “Origin Green,” which focuses on the country’s efforts to produce sustainable food and drink. It explores topics like sustainable animal husbandry, fishing and multigenerational farming.

Sustainable pavilions highlighted at Expo Milano © Margaret Badore. Rear of Ireland’s pavilion at Expo Milano.

The exhibit is housed in a long wooden structure that bows outwards along one side. Natural light is made use of inside the pavilion. One representative said the pavilion does have air conditioning (our visit was on a particularly hot day), but that the space is designed to be as energy-efficient as possible.

New Holland Agriculture

Sustainable pavilions highlighted at Expo Milano © Margaret Badore. New Holland Agriculture’s pavilion at Expo Milano.

In addition to the 145 participating countries (some share exhibit space within regional “clusters”), a number of corporations also built pavilions at Expo Milano. New Holland Agriculture, a manufacturer of farm equipment such as tractors, took a very high-tech approach to sustainable design.

The pavilion is a steel construction featuring a large grassy green roof, which helps to cool the structure while also managing rainwater. Thirty percent of runoff is captured for re-use on the site. Visitors walk up a long ramp alongside this slanted lawn to enter the exhibit space. Inside, the building uses efficient LED lighting. But perhaps one of the most unusual innovations used in this design is photocatalytic bricks around the outside of the building. These sidewalks are designed to suck up nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollutants. After the Expo finishes in October, the structure will be disassembled and re-assembled elsewhere.

Travel for this reporting sponsored in part by the UN Environment Programme.

Sustainable pavilions highlighted at Expo Milano
In honor of World Environment Day, organizers of the World’s fair highlighted the greenest exhibit designs.

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