Monday, July 13, 2015

EXPO 2015 - What is a Universal Exposition anyway?

Shows, food, discussions and lots of people are all going to converge to hopefully bring a much needed surge of business to the local economy. We're counting on it, I'd say, but there is more to it than that. Universal Expositions are actually fairs to promote international tourism, industry, design and exchange. If you want more history, I suggest you hop over to Wikipedia for a quick brush-up.


What is EXPO Milano 2015? 

Tourism, farming, food, music, art, architecture: these are the more obvious themes of this year's Expo. Pavilion styles reflect cultural differences with a definite slant in expression towards food and perception of natural resources. Several countries have independent constructions to illustrate their commitment/contributions towards the world's food supply. Many have interactive tables or video games to let people playfully explore topics like crop production, sustainability and innovation.

Argentine beef salad

Feeding the Planet...

Italy is the perfect place to talk about food, and the choice of this theme for Expo 2015 was a stroke of genius. Italian food is renowned worldwide; the myriad of styles, flavors, and available dishes is mind-boggling. Each pavilion along the Cardo (the main north-south avenue at Expo) are lined with small restaurants where they serve Italian food. 
Eataly, a huge supermarket that deals in authentic Italian food, has it's own area with several different regional restaurants. They've made "Made in Italy" an adjective phrase that denotes not only the place of origin of a food or object, but also an implied concept of quality. "Made in Italy" food is good, authentic and special. It's a source of national pride. 

Farming, harvest and distribution of food in the face of rising world population is a humbling problem. I saw moveable vertical gardens, ideas for crop rotations and desalinization plants for desert irrigation systems that could provide remedies for hunger and poverty. 

Cultural expression through food frequently helps us identify and understand other cultures. I've eaten Chinese spring rolls with chopsticks, and torn off pieces of Eritrean injera bread to sop up different types of stews without silverware, as is their custom. I'm so used to the idea of a fork that it's hard to think of doing it another way, but that is part of the beauty of trying new dishes. 

Spices, coffee, cocoa, rice, cereals, fruit and legumes: at Expo they're called Clusters. These pavilions group together different countries that share the same crop. They have chocolate scuptors, courses to learn how to make great coffee, and excellent rice dishes. And that's only what I've actually seen so far. Every day there is something new to learn.

...Energy for Life.

Where else could you see unfinished particleboard on the sides of pavilions?

Recycling, reuse, donations, green technology, smart glass and plywood: materials and technology used to build Expo pavilions reflects this part of the theme. In addition to food related issues, our planet's growing population uses resources, and we are going to run out of something sooner or later.
Learning how to reuse materials and, in my opinion, getting over the idea that if something is wrong if everything we own isn't brand-spanking-new otherwise will help us live longer with the resources that we have.

The rusty brown of CorTen steel contrasts well with the white tarpaulins shading the Decumanus (the central east-west thoroughfare), and many pavilions have orchards, meadows with wildflowers and typical plants. The Rice Cluster is surrounded by rice paddy flowerbeds, and I saw honeybees and butterflies at more than one place. The rooftop terrace of the Russian Pavilion is simply covered with grass. The resulting atmosphere is peaceful - and it's not to say that there are no people. Thousands of visitors are there on any given day, but I always have an impression of peace and quiet when I'm there.

The Belgian Pavilion has an aquaponics installation: huge round wheels on top of fish tanks that use the rich fertile water to grow plants and raise fish for human consumption. Truly remarkable, and self sustaining with just a little care, I think these units are perfectly suited to modern life, though I admit I'm not sure I'd want one of my own.

Belgian Pavilion Expo 2015

As you can see, this year's Unversal Exposition in Milan, Italy has got a lot going on.