Expo Milano 2015: Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life

A map of Expo 2015

A map of Expo 2015

“Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” is the theme of the 2015 World Expo currently being celebrated in Milan, Italy through October 31st. World’s fairs have traditionally been celebrated both for their architecture and for the cultural and scientific advances that they bring forth. I spoke several weeks ago at a panel at the California Historical Society about the legacy of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, which gave us Bernard Maybeck’s Palace of Fine Arts. The fair not only celebrated San Francisco’s recovery after the 1906 earthquake and fire but also its position on the Pacific Rim, newly enhanced by the completion of the Panama Canal. Technological progress was celebrated in many ways at the Expo, including a functional Ford motor car assembly line which built Model T’s, and the first trans-continental phone call. The airplane was a constant feature, as was the introduction of Impressionist paintings. The Fair was a triumph – shadowed by Europe’s descent into World War I.

A century later, we make phone calls at will with mobile devices to and from some of the remotest corners of the world. We can fly easily from San Francisco to Milan at relatively inexpensive prices (planned far enough in advance). Given the subject matter of the Expo, it seemed natural for a firm that is as involved with the food world as ours is for us to journey to Milan this summer, to experience an Expo and its architecture, which has as its theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.”

As it seems is the case with all international Expos, Olympics, and World Cups, the Milan Expo has been the subject of significant controversy and scandal. The original master plan envisioned pavilions by Jacques Herzog that were to be similar and differentiated by content, not architecture. In the end the urge to differentiate and celebrate won out. We look forward to seeing the grouping of the three reusable pavilions that Herzog completed for Slow Food. Slow Food’s involvement was itself the subject of much debate in the face of the participation of companies such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. Ultimately Slow Food decided it is important to be present and to participate in the international dialogue that the Fair represents.

BCV has taken much inspiration by Carlo Petrini’s philosophical approach to creating a sustainable food system: good, clean and fair. We have paired this with Vitruvius formulation for architecture which asks the architect to strive for firmness, commodity and delight. In thinking about building in a sustainable way, we believe that it is crucial that it not be done from a position of guilt but rather joy – (Petrini’s good and Vitruvius’ delight) so that it is an act which is embraceable and repeatable. Our projects find inspiration in the complete ecologies that are brought into play by sustainable food systems – systems which address the cultures that they are part of in a comprehensive way. We look forward to experiencing the Expo this week and will blog about what we find impressive, challenging and inspiring.

The front page of la Repubblica, with a caption that reads

The front page of la Repubblica, with a caption that reads “Michelle, Mission Italy ‘the challenge for healthy food'”

We have just learned that our visit overlays with that of Michelle Obama on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see how the logistical challenges of this visit will impact ours – but her presence here affirms the importance she places on healthy eating and a sustainable food system.