Vertical farm planned for the U.S. Pavilion at the world’s fair

vertical farm wall
© Biber Architects

The world’s fair, known as Expo Milano 2015, is more than a year away. Yet the plans for for the small city that will house the event are well underway. The theme of the 184-day fair is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” which will focus on sustainable design and agriculture.

The U.S. pavilion is being led by the James Beard Foundation and the International Culinary Center. James Biber is the architect designing the structure, which will feature a vertical farm of harvestable crops.

Biber told me that the wall is conceived as “a field that’s been tipped up.” The green wall will have a hydroponic growing system mounted onto movable panels that can be rotated to face the sun. They’re developing a system that will capture and recycle rainwater for irrigation. Growers will be able to reach the plants by catwalks, and Biber hopes to turn harvesting food from the wall into a kind of performance.

vertical farm wall© Biber Architects

The wall is more of a story-telling tool than a scalable example for future urban farmers. Biber calls it a “didactic wall” that will help tell a story about the future of American agriculture. Biber is working with a team of landscape architects to decide what crops to plant on the wall, and how to shape that story.

Biber said the rest of the structure is inspired by a barn-like “farm machine,” with an open layout. They’re planning a roof that combines super-thin solar panels and photochromatic glass. To further help cool the building without air conditioning, the design calls for 27-foot fans and may also involve a misting system.

Sustainable design is central to the all of the planning behind Expo Milano 2015. Piero Galli, a general manager of events for the expo, told me that all of the pavilions must meet construction standards for sustainability and follow the event’s green procurement guide.

One of the requirements is that much of the material used in the pavilions must be recyclable. Biber’s design plans to use recyclable steel framing and a composite wood floor that can be chipped for re-use. They’re also using timber repurposed from East Coast boardwalks, which Biber describes as “borrowing” from his supplier.

view of interior© Biber Architects

The food grown at the site will be served at the Expo, which runs from May 1 to October 31 of 2015. The American pavilion plans to feature “food truck” kiosks (cars won’t be allowed on the grounds of the event), each one featuring foods from the different regions of the U.S.

Lanie Bayless, the program director for the U.S. Pavilion, said they hope to introduce the regional diversity of American cuisine to people from around the world. “That’s something that people outside the U.S. don’t know exists,” she said. There will also be a series of “TED-like” talks that focus on issues of sustainable agriculture.

Susan Ungaro, President of the James Beard Foundation, said that when the foundation learned that food would be central to the theme of the Expo, they knew they wanted to be involved with the U.S. pavilion. “The exciting project is to bring the sensibility of our namesake to show how food matters,” said Ungaro, and that topics of seasonality and locality were important to James Beard.

Vertical farm planned for the U.S. Pavilion at the world’s fair
A sideways farm fits with the “Feeding the Planet” theme of Expo Milano 2015.

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