Themes for world fairs tend to be broad and inclusive by nature - from Shanghai's Better City, Better Life in 2012, to Astana's upcoming 2017 theme, Energy For The Future - their aim is to inspire and touch on a common, global topic through different interpretations. Making this overarching theme their own is part of the challenge for any designer involved, and one that Nottingham-based artist Wolfgang Buttress happily took on, when he submitted his proposal for the UK Pavilion in Milan's World Expo 2015 last year.
Proposing a pavilion that focuses on an experience, Buttress responded to the 2015 theme, Feeding The Planet, Energy For Life, by highlighting the importance and issues of the honeybee. 'I was sceptical about how you can express this theme simply, in a single pavilion,' he says. 'The honeybee metaphor worked well. Bee colonies are in danger and the bee is directly or indirectly responsible for every 1/3 mouthful of food we eat.'
The pavilion is designed to cleverly transport a section of the British countryside to Milan. The site is long and narrow (a rough 20m x 100m) so the team translated it as a journey, at the end of which sits its sculptural centrepiece and main building. A walk through a rich garden of different planted landscapes will bring the visitor up to the structure, which abstractly resembles a beehive. The 'beehive' is made of aluminium. 'We wanted to work with materials that patinate', says Buttress.
British food will be offered and displayed within, while bespoke sound pieces (including a live feed from a UK bee colony) and smells accompany the visual feast for a truly full experience that engages each sense. Buttress worked on the design with architecture firm BDP and consulted physicist and bee expert Dr Martin Bencsik.
Manufacturing the piece was no mean feat; the level of complexity was high. Created in the workshop of expert makers Stage One in York (the people also behind the annual Serpentine pavilion), the structure consists of an impressive 169,300 pieces, weighing some 50 tons.
The competition was won in May 2014 and with Stage One already appointed for the manufacturing, construction began in October the same year. 'It was a journey of discovery,' says Stage One Sales and Marketing Director Tim Leigh. 'Time was the most challenging element in this project.' Almost a full year since then and the striking installation is now gearing up for the Expo's official inauguration on May 1st.
Partnering with the UK Pavilion for its first ever special preview, Wallpaper* was there during the Salone del Mobile fair to celebrate the completion together with Buttress, the UK Commissioner General for Milan Expo 2015 Hannah Corbett and the UK Ambassador to Italy Christopher Prentice, in an exclusive event. Meanwhile, Wallpaper*Handmade at EXPO Gate gathered the 'best of' all the gastronomic-related wonders from leading designers, manufacturers and craftsmen. The items on display were selected from the show's past five editions and inspired by the upcoming Milan Expo and its food-related motto, whetting our apetite for what is to come.
When the doors are thrown open, the UK Pavilion will no doubt provide an arresting, immersive and informative attraction. The theme and structure's complexity comes together under a single, powerful idea. 'We needed to remember that it will be visited by people from different places and different cultures,' says Buttress. 'It makes you want to go simple and elemental.'