In less than a year, the world will descend on Milan for the next installment of the once-every-five-years world expo. Opening on May 1, Expo Milano 2015, “Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life,” will take a turn for the topical, asking the more than 140 participating nations to tackle the subject of food. The U.S. pavilion, American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet, organized by the James Beard Foundation and the International Culinary Center, in association with the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy, is being designed by New York–based Biber Architects with architect Andrea Grassi and landscape architect Susannah Drake.
The stakes are high. In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for example, warned of risks to food security and widespread food shortage in the coming years, which are themes the expo will address. “There will be 9 billion people to feed by 2050,” said Mitchell Davis, the Chief Creative Officer of the Friends of the U.S. Pavilion and the Executive Vice President of the James Beard Foundation. “We need to figure out how to do that on the same amount of ground.”
Though the U.S. pavilion will take on this knotty problem, it will also serve up what Davis called “America’s contribution to gastronomy,” which, he emphasized, “won’t be hamburgers and hot dogs.” Instead, there will be a contingent of food trucks to convey the inventiveness and entrepreneurialism of food in the U.S.
Biber Architects principal James Biber studied up on the history of architecture at world expos, setting out to critique what he called “a box with one door in and one door out—a long queue at the front, a linear exhibition, and an exit out the gift shop.” Instead, his firm has designed a pavilion that will find a balance between a scripted exhibition and a self-guided experience, allowing for a combination of both.
The pavilion design is organized horizontally, providing different types of experiences across three stories. Tying the experience together is a kinetic planted wall growing produce, which moves in response to sunlight. The ground level features an outdoor area to stage the food trucks, but also includes a fully enclosed and climate-controlled space, where organizers will curate the most linear experience of the pavilion’s content. The second level works as what Biber called a “hybrid experience—still an exhibit, but a self-guided one.” Partly enclosed by the porous green wall, the second floor will be a cool, breezy place. Above, on the third floor roof deck, the architects included two zones: the first, an enclosed room for meetings and VIPs, and, the second, an open platform where organizers can hold events and screen film and other media.
The expo site itself, designed by a consortium of designers, including Herzog & de Meuron, Ricky Burdett, Stefano Boeri, Mark Rylander, William McDonough, and Stefano Boeri, arranges pavilions along a grid of narrow lots—each 20 meters wide—that will allow visitors to experience more of them, and do so in systematic fashion. Daniel Libeskind is designing a bold red pavilion for the Chinese developer Vanke as well as several monumental sculptures.
Into this context, Biber is designing the U.S. pavilion to become “a scaffold for ideas, elemental and open enough to allot for a lot of ideas and experiences—not ‘fortress America.’” Visitors will learn about food security, public health, and the science of food in the midst of climate change—with a Korean taco or lobster roll from a food truck. “All of these ideas will co-exist in the pavilion,” said Davis. “It will be an open, airy structure where you can explore these ideas or just hang out.”