Ireland’s Pavilion at the world Expo 2015 in Milan projects an image as a world leader in sustainable, responsible food production.
The northern Italian city of Milan is hosting the world EXPO 2015, which opened its doors at the start of the month. There’s been huge demand for tickets with nine million already sold. The organiser’s claim that by the time the exhibition closes on the 31 of October 20 million people will have entered the Universal Exposition area to view the pavilions displayed by 140 different nations.
The overarching theme of the EXPO is Feeding The planet, Energy For Life, focusing on food quality, security and sustainability as well as renewable energy sources and living systems. Ireland is also present in the world’s shop window with a pavilion and exhibition entitled ‘Origin Green: Working With Nature.
The pavilion was designed by the Office of Public Works and sits on a 1,175 square meter site in the Expo village. Inside there are three levels each introducing the visitor to Ireland’s wealth of natural resources, its stunning landscape and unique culture. The Wild Atlantic Way features prominently with the visitor treated to a multimedia journey through the best of the Irish landscape and culture.
The emphasis at Origin Green: Working With Nature is that Ireland with its abundant clean waters and vast open fertile fields is perfectly placed to feed the planet in a way that is sustainable and maintains the land’s integrity and productivity for future generations. The first floor there is a mezzanine open space to host business events.
The pavilion is an all wood structure, woven slats create a bread basket effect, a metaphor for Ireland’s agricultural DNA, in line with the strong themes of sustainability running through the exposition. The city of Milan has built a designated quarter on the occasion of the Expo including the Bosco Verticale, a fully sustainable sky rise living system. The award-winning architecture includes terraces of trees all the up, the trees provide shade in the summer and help insulate in the winter. They are watered using the building’s waste grey water.
Designed by State Architect Kieran O’Connor and Gerry Harvey of the Office of Public Works, the pavilion was put up very quickly in just 6 months. The timber for the weaving structure was sourced in Lombardy, northern Italy in order to reduce the carbon footprint.
“As Ireland were only designated one of the smallest sites, a lot of the design considerations were due to that limitation” says State Architect Kieran O’Connor. “We wanted to capture the essence of our country in a new and progressive way, there’s a pond that represents the fact that we’re an island and a swooping sail like structure too. As Ireland has a tradition of hand craft, we wanted to convey that too, so that’s where the timber elements came in.”
The Ireland pavilion came in at a cost of €1.7m, significantly cheaper than many others, with Germany spending €30m on theirs.
“But not all the design was down to ideas, it had to be functional too. We were able to play with the regulations, because we had such a small site we had to limit the height of the structure. We were able to turn that to our advantage and we created a functional roof garden space, one of the only ones in the whole Expo and we’ve been inundated with requests by other nations to use this. It’s a unique vantage point to observe the people coming and going,” continues O’Connor.
So what will happen to the pavilion when the Expo closes its doors in October? “Well there are a few options,” says O’Connor, “We might take it home, but that could prove costly as we’ll have to pay VAT if we take it out of Italy. The other option is to make a gift of it to a school or something, we’re working through that at the moment.”
How has the reaction been? “It has been received very well,” says O’Connor. The Italians, who are really into design have been really enthusiastic about it, it’s featured on many blogs and we were one of only four countries asked to give a talk about our pavilion.”
The Expo has not been without its share of controversy, first with evidence of rampant corruption among top officials associated with running the event and then with an angry mob of left-wing anarchists who hijacked an anti-corruption protest on the 1 of May in Milan, wreaking havoc, causing millions of euro worth of damage and over 50 cars burnt out on the streets.
That is all behind the Expo however, and the footfall for the exposition are in line with even the most optimistic predictions. Commerce continues and Ireland has its place in the world’s fair.
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