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14 October 2015


Sustainability as Entertainment 
along the Cardo and Decumanus

the Swiss Pavilion
I gave a talk about the TASIS campus as an alternative to the crisis of sprawl at the Swiss Pavilion at Expo Milano on October 10. Expo’s ostensible theme is Feeding the Planet, and while there was a subtext of food at the national pavilions, this is hardly comes off as an event intended to change the world. After all, McDonald’s had a place on the so-called Decumano (allusions to the Roman decumanus being a form of pretense without much substance). This was sustainability as entertainment, and wow, does it work: on a beautiful autumn Saturday it was absolutely packed, the waits to get into many of the pavilion exhibits ranging toward four and even 
the Decumano looking west
six hours, and the dense (in more than one sense) crowds along the Decumano almost un-passable. 

benvenuti in Italia!
Questions are un-escapable about how sustainable the Expo itself is: the Expo website has a page on Sustainable Expo, but when I visited it the link to Sustainable Architecture of Self-Built Pavilions was broken. It’s one thing to recycle building materials, another to reuse buildings; I suspect there will be much more of the former than the latter. The Swiss pavilion tower, earnestly didactic almost to the point of pedantry about limited food resources, was built of concrete, steel and glass, accessible only by (small) elevator, much of it hard to imagine being salvaged and reused—although the glue-laminated timber passerelle that snakes its way somewhat irrationally (formal rationalism may no longer be the dominant Swiss mode) around the tower could theoretically be unbolted and reassembled. Very few pavilions could be recognized for their national identity without signage—Italy perhaps most egregiously; but this is in a way to say that few were in any sense evocative of traditional architecture (Romania being among the notable exceptions).

feel the slove-nia

Mmmmm, meat!
This was, paradoxically if not cynically, not at all about seriously dealing with hunger, healthy eating, traditional foods (the only “traditional” displays of food were Dante Ferretti’s jumbo-crèche carts of fake food along the center of the Decumano), or biodiversity. This was about consumption being swallowed with a soupçon of concern. Feel good about yourself while chowing down at a food cart in a throw-away landscape! 

taking the long view: Yikes!

Zooming out and seeing the fair in context, the increasingly nightmarish landscape that takes over as Milan dissipates into its periphery begs the question of how the Expo could have been more “constructive:” maybe rehabilitating a dilapidated neighborhood instead of operating in a cordoned-off hinterland? Taking over an at-risk or moribund field and rendering it arable? But this Expo isn’t all about constructive change, it’s more about the status quo—and full steam ahead! Fortunately, many in the food world are more serious than Expo expresses, and certainly more enlightened than the hegemonic architectural forms on display. They have Slow Food, where's the Slow Architecture?