top of page

EXPO Milano 2015

A Guide to the Pavilions, part 1

Article for

On the 1st of May the EXPO 2015 in Milan opened its gates to visitors after the seven-year period of planning and construction. In a comprehensive three-part feature, we will present the architecturally, structurally and thematically fascinating pavilions of this quad-annual Universal Exposition with an on-going history of 160 years.  

The theme of the Expo is ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’. This embraces technology, innovation, culture, traditions, and creativity and how they relate to food and diet. Within this broad theme, seven sub-themes were proposed: 1. Science for food safety, security and quality, 2. Innovation in the agro food supply chain, 3. Technology for agriculture and biodiversity, 4. Dietary education, 5. Solidarity and cooperation on Food, 6. Food and better lifestyles, 7. Food in the world’s cultures and ethnic groups. All participating countries were asked to address the problems and opportunities opening up for the agriculture sector in the fields of sustainable development, common well-being and the fight against hunger. 

Milanese architect and planner Stefano Boeri was originally responsible for coorditating the Expo masterplan. He assembled a team: with Swiss Pritzker Prize recipients Herzog & de Meuron, Rickard Burdett (London Olympics’ chief adviser on architecture and urbanism), William McDonough (who formulated the ‘Hannover Principles’ for the Hanover Expo in 2000 based on his ‘Cradle to Cradle’ design for sustainability theory), and the Spanish architect and planner Joan Busquets (responsible for much of the good that resulted from the Barcelona Olympics in 1992). 

The development of the Expo plan can be broadly divided into three phases: the initial plan, the concept plan (by Stefano Boeri and his team), and the masterplan (that was submitted and approved by BIE on April 30, 2010). In 2011, the initial planning team of the conceptual masterplan left the project because they felt the plan was being implemented only as an urbanistic and formal pattern, not as an intellectual concept which would have “elided the usual vanity fair of competitive national pride seen at part Expos”. The initial concept was further developed by a group of young architects recently graduated from the Polytechnic University of Milan. In the final plan the idea of providing equal amounts of space for each exhibiting country is abandoned, and instead each has the opportunity to rent areas ranging from 400 to 6,000 sq.m. The buildable areas are reduced to 30% of the area assigned to each exhibitor. 

The site planning is developed along two major thoroughfares based on the structures of Roman cities: the exhibition spaces of the countries (54 independent self-built pavilions and 9 thematic clusters) are laid out along the 1.5 km of the Decumano (stretching along the East-West axis)  - which is meant to be reminiscent of a long dinner table with all countries having an equal front to the main boulevard– and Italy’s exhibition area is along the 350 m. of the Cardo, with municipalities, provinces and regions represented in the Palazzo Italia, stretching along the North-South axis. Conceived as an island, the site is surrounded by a canal of approx. 4.5 km. At the intersection of the two axes is the Piazza Italia and at the four endpoints we find: on the east the Mediterranean Hill (created from the excavation soil of the construction works), on the west the Expo Centre (housing the EXPO’s headquarters and the Media Centre), on the south the Open Air Theatre, and on the north the Lake Area with the landmark of the EXPO – the Tree of Life (the last two being the main event areas of the site). 

In each of the three features we present a selection of the self-built national pavilions, of the clusters and thematic areas, and of the non-official participants, corporate and partner pavilions. The visit took place between the 5th and 14th of May. 


The Universal Expositions are organized by the Bureu Internacional de Exposiciones (BIE), taking place every five years over six months during which cultural, social and economic exchanges between countries, institutions, international bodies, ngo’s and companies are strenghtended. They have an on-going tradition of 160 years. World Expos are regarded as the Olympics in the areas of economy, culture, science and technology. Early events date back in 1851 (London) with the last Expo in Shanghai in 2010 reaching 73 million visitors. Popular inventions presented in past Expo’s include: the Phograph (1878 Paris), The Ferris Wheel (1893 Chicago), The X-Ray Machine (1901 Buffalo), Electricity (1904 St. Louis), The Television Set (1939 New York), the Mobile Phone (1970 Osaka). According to the Protocol of BIE, a world exposition “is an event which, regardless of its name, has a primary purpose of public education, making an inventory of means available to people in order to meet the needs of the civilisation and highlighting current progress or future prospects within one or more areas of human activity”.

May 2015. 

bottom of page