The world fair with a difference
The EXPO 2015 world fair in Milan began on May 1 and will continue until October 31, 2015. It is the biggest world fair yet: 140 countries are participating in total and 53 countries have constructed their own pavilion at total cost of around €1 billion. The fair extends over an area of approximately one million square metres, with more than 150 restaurants, bars, kiosks, street food stations and drinks areas, making Expo 2015 the biggest restaurant as well as the biggest trade fair in the world. The DORCHESTER spoke to the Mayor of Milan Giuliano Pisapia, Expo 2015 Event Manager Pietro Galli, Expo 2015 Visitor, Experience and Exhibition Design Director Matteo Gatti, and Expert on economic affairs, the vice president of Milan’s Chamber of Commerce Alberto Meomartini about the big event.
Milan was selected to host the fair by the BIE (International Exhibitions Bureau) in 2008 and preparations for the event started immediately. Expo 2015 is not limited to the fair site itself: the whole city of Milan is involved, hosting a series of events which will animate the city during Expo’s six-month run. “The fair is simultaneously chaotic and co-ordinated, a combination which brilliantly represents the wealth of opportunities that the city has to offer”, says Mayor of Milan, Giuliano Pisapia. “Our commitment as a city is to guarantee a unique and exciting experience for millions of visitors. First and foremost, we want them to imagine what socialisation and commitment could bring to the human race. The collective endeavour for a better world can and must begin in Milan.” Adds Pisapia.
Expo, with a twist
Traditionally, world fairs have served as a launch pad for new structures and innovations but Milan’s 2015 Expo is a little different. Its theme is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, and its ultimate aim is to promote dialogue on the topic and raise awareness of the issues. To that end, participants are invited to pitch suggestions, ideas, solutions and exchange know-how. Instead of revealing a huge building as a memento of the event as Expo world fairs have done in the past, the legacy of Expo 2015 will be one of change, solution, international and intercultural discussion as well as pragmatic ideas for a better, more sustainable way to feed the 7 billion people living on our planet today.
The legacy of Expo 2015 will be one of change, solution, international and intercultural discussion as well as pragmatic ideas for a better, more sustainable way to feed the 7 billion people living on our planet today
Pietro Galli, Expo 2015 Event Manager believes that the theme of food is appealing and newsworthy enough to guarantee the success of the event – both in terms of audience figures and media attention. “The format of the event is current and innovative because for the first time in its long history”, Galli says. “Expo is not a pure exhibition of human achievements, rather than an opportunity to open dialogue and cooperation between nations, organizations and businesses in an attempt to find common strategies to improve quality of life and sustain the environment. Expo 2015 also offers visitors an unforgettable experience built on the combination of knowledge, taste and entertainment with a focus on families, children, young people and women. Our hope is that Expo 2015 will be the event of the year”. Adds Galli.
This departure in intention from previous world fairs is also emphasised by the fair’s design. “The design of the site, is based on that of Ancient Rome. The site is built on a large sliding axis, the Cardo, with perpendicular streets, the Decumano, feeding off it”, explains Matteo Gatti, Visitor, Experience and Exhibition Design Director. This is no accident: this design is one of the most popular for modern cities – New York City is the best and most famous example. Interestingly, it is also the method employed in agriculture to section off fields in an efficient way – the design of the fair echoing its theme.
One of the most impressive elements of the fair’s design is the system of waterways which surrounds the exhibition grounds. “We have built a canal that is about 20 kilometres long to connect the Villoresi canal (just outside of Milan) to the Naviglio Grande, a canal that flows right through the grounds of Expo 2015. Both waterways have an aesthetic and practical function. The water coming from the canalis used to supply the fair’s cooling systems and is then directed into a new network of canals that brings the waste water all the way to the rich fields of Pavia, 30 km south of Milan, to be used for irrigation so that there will be absolutely no waste,” says Gatti.
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The project was also conceived as a way to draw attention to the issue of water preservation and to promote it as a common good as well as a universal right.
Design, culture and the role of women
The fair also promises to be a major cultural, educational and diplomatic event. As Matteo Gatti explains: “In order to assure the top quality of both design and concept, we formed a committee of five of the most important names in the field”. These include Swiss architect Jacques Herzog of internationally renowned firm Herzog & de Meuron, acclaimed Italian architect and urban planner, Stefano Boeri, Catalan architect and urban planner, Joan Busquets, American architect, designer and advisor William McDonough and Richard Burdett (a Professor of Urban Studies of the London School of Economics – LSE). Expo 2015 was also keen to give space to the next generation and selected thirty young architects from Milan’s Politecnico University and asked renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano to supervise their ideas and proposals and to integrate them into the fair.
Inspired by Milan’s proactive approach, a great number of participating countries asked whether they themselves could commission leading names from the world of architecture and design to collaborate on their projects. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which will host the next Expo in 2020, chose English architect Norman Foster, of Foster + Partners studio, to conceive and design its pavilion. The collaboration resulted in a pavilion that caters to both the naturally cool climate of Milan and the sunny and hot weather of the UAE. The design is intended to underline the diversity in backgrounds of Italy and the Gulf country, while simultaneously emphasising their common goal: that of promoting a green and sustainable agenda. “We want participating countries to showcase the two themes of the event, sustainability and moderation, in their actual construction,” says Gatti.
Expo 2015 is comprised of national pavilions and so-called clusters, where countries are organised not by geography, but by topic. Within these spaces, cultural projects, events, workshops and conferences for food production specialists as well as for the general public take place. “Expo Milan 2015,” Gatti continues, “intends to promote projects across several areas: education, cinema, research, innovation and digital technology.”
Another interesting element of Milan’s Expo is the particular emphasis on women. The Women for Expo project is an initiative launched in association with the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Mondadori Foundation. How does this project relate to the general theme of the event? “Historically, women’s role in society was that of sourcing and providing food for the entire family. Though such a role is no longer a primary factor in women’s day-to-day life, in the West especially, female culture has traditionally been a source of knowledge and information relating to food and feeding and this”, Gatti says, “should be acknowledged and cherished. It is an initiative that embraces the past while striving for a better future and artists, writers, VIPS alongside ‘regular’ working women will have the chance to present their country, experience and ideas at different events throughout the fair.”
A worthwhile investment
An event of this size and ambition certainly does not come cheap. “Total public investment, amounted to €1.3 billion, and was unanimously agreed in Parliament. Expo 2015 is perhaps the only Italian project in the past 50 years which the whole country has agreed on! In addition to the State’s investment, private sector contributions of about €0.3 billion, and the investment of official participants amounts to roughly €1 billion: €600 million for infrastructure and €400 million for services management.” Pietro Galli tells the DORCHESTER.
The total cost was approximately €2.6 billion before the fair has even started, begging the fundamental question: what sort of return is the organizing committee hoping for? “We are talking about significant figures: more than €10 billion,” says Galli. “We expect to see most of the impact within the fields of production and services. It has, in fact, been calculated that the event which has just commenced will produce a turnover of approximately €5 billion for tourism, with important implications for employment in that sector. Most importantly, Expo 2015 is an opportunity to raise Italy’s profile as a tourist destination but also as place to do business,” Says Galli.
The DORCHESTER talked to Alberto Meomartini, an expert on economic affairs and the vice president of Milan’s Chamber of Commerce about the benefits to Milan and Italy. “Expo 2015 will provide immeasurable benefits to Milan and to the whole of Italy in terms of reputation, profile and communication. It will also have a considerable economic impact on a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises which are the heart of the Italian economy.” According to a study by Milan’s Bocconi University (one of the world’s leading universities for economic studies) this benefit will impact all areas of production and services, and will continue long after the fair is officially over, says Meomartini.
The increase in national employment is only one area where Expo 2015 will benefit Milan, Italy and the rest of Europe. According to economic projections, 191,000 new jobs will be created, 102,000 of those in Milan. “Up until 2015,” Meomartini clarifies, “employment opportunities arising from Expo will mainly be located within the building and industry sectors, but during the event itself there will be a huge rise in opportunities for tourism, hospitality and services.”
In and around Milan, production will see a turnover of around €12.7 billion, on a national total of €23.6 billion. Thanks to Expo 2015, 11,000 new operations will be opened, half of them in the Lombardy region. Meomartini is also keen to underline how “a number of economic forecasts, including that of Bocconi University, indicate that benefits will continue to impact the real economy up until 2020 and beyond, in terms of new business, construction and increased touristic appeal of the area.”
Milan Open City
But what will visitors actually do once they get to Milan? Over the past months, the fair’s logistical team has been organising Expo in Città (Expo in the City) project, the series of events in the city of Milan that complements the main event for the six months of Expo. “The main component of the project,” says Giuliano Pisapia, “is technology. All of the events are organised aroundv our website en.expoincitta.com. It serves as a platform for coordinating the enormous number of events and activities taking place in and around town. More than 200 initiatives will create and stage around 7,000 open and private events every day, including exhibitions, concerts, shows, scientific conferences, sporting events and festivals, all based around the topic of food.”
All of the city’s forces have been mobilized in order to guarantee the success of Expo in Città. First and foremost, a coordination committee has been set up and there is even a soundtrack or musical logo composed by Giovanni Sollima, world-renowned Italian composer and cellist, to accompany all promotional activities. More than 500 venues in the city, both public and private, have offered their space for use during Expo in citta, and the mayor expects this number to grow as the whole of Milan is invested, financially and in spirit, in making the city more vibrant, lively and attractive for the six months of Expo. “Plus”, adds Pisapia, “We launched the Ambassador project, which transforms city shops into points of information for tourists.”
As Dubai will inherit the mantel from Milan, the DORCHESTER asked Pietro Galli what the UAE’s main city can learn from Italy’s experience. “Expo 2015 Milan and Expo 2020 Dubai are collaborating closely. To give you a practical example: last February the two cities signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The main areas of cooperation are Dubai 2020’s participation in Expo Milan 2015, the sharing of knowledge, skills and experience on systems and processes related to the organisation of a World Exposition and management and recruitment support. Each Expo is certainly a project in itself, but sharing knowledge and expertise is absolutely crucial. Especially because close cooperation between Milan and Dubai is vital to ensure a continuum between the two editions of the event that will benefit the visibility and attractiveness of both fairs.”
Expo 2015 is set to be a major event in this year’s calendar. Pietro Galli drafted some very talented sponsors to be involved, such as producer Ermanno Olmi, three-time Oscar-winning designer Dante Ferretti, internationally renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang and architect Norman Foster. He is also proud to have the event endorsed by several very famous and talented ambassadors: illustrious chef Davide Oldani, several soccer players, TV personalities, architects (such as Massimiliano Fuksas) and many others. More importantly, several major international organisations have added their names to the roster – the UN and the EU as well as NGOs like Action Aid, Save the Children and the WWF (World Wildlife Fund for Nature). With a line-up of music, dance and entertainment, a fair-wide focus on food, diet and nutrition, the largest collective organisation dedicated to food which has ever been undertaken, Expo 2015 in Milan is sure to have something for every taste!.
By Dr. Paolo Mastromo