Think about how often you raise a fork to your mouth each day. Food is an integral, daily part of being alive. Global food security and sustainability continue to grow as an issue as population increases and technological advances change the way the world thinks about food.
More than 22 million people traveled to Expo Milano 2015, May 1 – Oct. 31, in Milan, Italy, to join the conversation about agriculture. The USA Pavilion set a one-day attendance record of 65,368.
The International Exhibitions Bureau (BIE) announced Milan as the host for this Universal Exposition, with the theme Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, at the end of 2010. More than 150 participants, including more than 145 separate countries and three international organizations, had individual or group pavilions ranging from 4,300-64,600 sq. ft., where they developed programming, activities and exhibits that represented the right and need for healthy, sufficient food worldwide and showcased the area’s ideological and academic contributions.
USA Pavilion 2015 faced a contentious funding challenge. A law passed by Congress in the early 1990s prohibits the U.S. Department of State from putting any money into expos. The USA Pavilion Fact Sheet states that “the U.S. Department of State has selected the Friends of the USA Pavilion Milano 2015 as its private sector partner to work with the U.S. government to develop and implement an official American presence at the Expo. The Friends of the USA Pavilion include the James Beard Foundation and the International Culinary Center, in association with the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy.
“We are the only country of the 147 who participated for which this is true,” said Mitchell Davis, Exec. VP of the James Beard Foundation, which spearheaded the nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization Friends of the USA Pavilion Milan 2015 along with the International Culinary Center. “This leads to some complicated and difficult situations because this is ultimately an event about public diplomacy, with ambassadors and the consulate and others playing important roles, and also requires us to raise all of the money [to fund participation] from the private sector.”
Support from dozens of sponsors and partner organizations made the dream of USA Pavilion, American Food 2.0: Feeding the Planet, a reality.
The 42,000-sq.-ft. USA Pavilion (one section of the 3.6 million-sq. ft. Expo Milano footprint) provided a multilevel experience including a 7,200-sq. ft. vertical farm consisting of a crop wall with 42 varieties of vegetables, grains and herbs, and a water wise irrigation system, as well as a roof terrace shaded with SPD SmartGlass that changed to respond to environmental conditions. James Biber of Biber Architects in New York designed the facility to create a dialogue between nature and science.
After securing the contract, Biber Architects had another six months to design and six months to build. Because of the funding situation, Biber found himself designing for a bit of a moving target, presenting the largest challenge of the project. All in, the facility cost between $50 million and $100 million.
More than 6.2 million people, nearly twice the number projected, walked through the USA Pavilion alone, making it the ‘unofficial’ most popular site. The design complemented the goal of massive attendance by providing natural access. “Our building didn’t require us to have a line outside or a wait to get in —except on the busiest days. You could come through at your own pace,” said Davis.
USA Pavilion attendees walked through eight experiences designed by UVPHACTORY within the building, eight of which were one-minute projection-mapped video walk-throughs combining live action, 2D and 3D animation techniques.
“There was a whole ‘transition time’ set of animations that let you know that the video is over and we designed animated arrows that showed the right direction to move, as well as subtle lighting animations that would wash over the walls and propel you in the proper direction,” said UVPH Principal and Co-Founder Damijan Saccio.
UVPH worked on the films for about seven months, going through many storyline revisions due to a multitier approval process that concluded with the U.S. State Department.
The facility’s architecture presented a challenge from a video design standpoint due to the faceted aesthetic. UVPH designed the videos from inception to showcase and highlight the unique facets to create interesting transitions and tie in with the stories.
The facilities featured Food Truck Nation featuring large-scale (semi-truck sized) food trucks to provide a taste of American trends, James Beard American Restaurant showcasing chefs and products, student ambassadors serving as on-the-ground guides, and the food and tech innovation accelerator featuring entrepreneurs, chefs, artists, and academics and the ongoing research to create the future of food.
“Although there are people who think that in this day and age when everyone is always connected through the internet and social media, some think we’ve lost the need for large, in-person gatherings, such as fairs and expos. That train of thought couldn’t be any further from the truth,” said Davis. “Coming together is more profound now that we are connected virtually but not physically.”
The Universal Exposition happens every five years, with the next one in Dubai. There are smaller expos on different regional themes in the in between years. For instance, this year there is a horticultural expo in Turkey, and a group in Minnesota is working to host a smaller expo in 2023.