Expo Milan 2015 adorns itself with a proud title: 'Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life'.
What can architecture and urbanism contribute to a World Exhibition and more specifically: how can the masterplan for a World Exhibition contribute to justify such a proud title? These were the questions we raised when we were asked by the then mayor of Milan, Mrs. Letizia Moratti, to design the masterplan for the Expo Milan 2015. We never liked such big shows, made to attract and impress millions of visitors. We decided to only accept the invitation to design the Milan masterplan if the client would accept a radically new vision for a World Exhibition, abandoning the obsolete idea of expositions solely based on architectural monuments and outmoded vanity shows of national pride that expos have always been since the mid-19th century and that we last experienced in the 2010 Shanghai Expo with its overblown, massive structures. We felt encouraged to go for a radical new approach after learning about Carlo Petrini's involvement. In the early days of the process Carlo gave a very impressive speech about his 'Terra Madre' movement in all parts of this planet. The World Exhibition should bring to the fore all the beauty of this planet's agricultural landscapes, but also all the challenges that come with overpopulation, drought, fertilization/industrialization and patent issues for seeds by multinational agro companies.
In summer 2009 we presented our concept for the masterplan which we developed together with Stefano Boeri, Ricky Burdett and William McDonough to the Bureau International des Expositions. As a reference for our conceptual masterplan we took the cardo/decumanus orthogonal grid system of the antique roman city. We went for this 'timeless' pattern because of its generic openness and its affinity to the 'Ideal City'. Its strong and simple orthogonal geometry would free all participants from any formal architectural exercises and therefore put more focus on the actual contents of the theme 'Feeding the Planted, Energy for Life’. We proposed to encourage all participating countries to abandon the idea of individually designed architectural pavilions and instead accept to present their national agricultural landscapes and gardens in simple and basic pavilion structures provided by the organizers. Such a concept would let all participants contribute in an equally important way alongside a generous boulevard. None of the pavilions would be overwhelming, none would bore us through its idiosyncratic design ambition or divert us from the essential content which is expressed in the message 'Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life'. The large boulevard, literally uniting the pavilions of all participating nations, would become a huge, planetary garden with a long table stretching the full length of the boulevard. This table, inspired by Leonardo's 'Last Supper’ would become a place for events, for people to meet and come together, symbolically representing a planetary table for all participants.
The organizers accepted our conceptual plan with its geometric rigor, but we subsequently did not feel supported in approaching and convincing the participating countries to embark on our radical approach for the national pavilions. It was around 2011 when we understood that our hope to re-invent the 21st century World Exhibition would fail and only the geometric pattern of our concept would finally be realized.