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Can the 2015 Milan Expo Leave a Legacy of Sustainability?

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Set upon 490 acres on the outskirts of Milan, Expo 2015 has turned an undeveloped stretch of land 10 miles from downtown into an architectural fairground, a midway of over-the-top structures that compete for your attention like a row of carnival barkers. During the festival's half year run, centered on the theme of "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life," more than 20 million visitors are expected to visit pavilions from 145 countries as well as dozens of corporations and organizations. It's a spectacle that organizers say required more than 16,000 workers to create.

According to Matteo Gatto, the Expo's Director of Visitor Experience and Exhibition Design, he'll consider it a success if the site begins a second life starting in 2016. Along with a focus on sustainable food production, organizers hope it will also be remembered in part for sustainable construction and design. Gatto says if everything runs according to plan, Expo 2015, which has already experienced a series of cost overruns, will serve as a catalyst for the development of the municipalities of Rho and Pero. To continue with the agricultural theme, this world's fair wants to plant a seed; by asking architects to rethink pavilion designs and create something reusable, it hopes the buildings can become resources instead of merely a series of temporary designs.

In an era of austerity in Europe, the idea of spending billions of dollars on a fair has met with criticism; a protester called the event "a machine for burning public money," and the Pope has criticized the extravagance (to be fair, the Vatican has its own pavilion). All of this was on the minds of the original planners, such as Herzog & de Meuron, who devised a more restrained master plan, and worked to encourage sustainable practices (Herzog & de Meuron later left the planning committee, saying that "we understood that the organizers would not undertake the necessary steps to convince the participating nations to give up on their conventional indulging in self-contemplation").

The guidelines for the pavilion included recommendations to build with sustainable materials that could be reused or recycled. This year's expo was meant to be built on a more human scale, with pavilion that encouraged touch, play and interaction. While many examples, such the playground-like structure Studio Arthur Casas and Atelier Marko Brajovic designed for Brazil, added a level of engagement while also creating a smaller footprint, Expo rules prevent Gatto and the organizers from dictating what different countries design.

According to Gatto, the Expo will be dismantled in stages by a crew of more than 5,000 workers, starting after the last visitor strolls through the grounds on the final day, October 31. For roughly the next year, different layers of materials, equipment and buildings will be removed from the site, many of which will be reused.

First, furniture and other pieces of equipment that aren't part of the pavilions themselves will be removed in November and December, many of which will be reused in Milan. Then, for the first half of 2016, the pavilions and temporary infrastructure will be dismantled by each country or organization. Finally, the land will be redeveloped for use by the city, though plans are still being finalized.

Many of the structures will have a second life after the event. The Giampiero Peia
-designed Coke pavilion will be moved and rechristened as part of a school in Milan. The Herzog & de Mauron pavilion will be broken down into sheds for Italian school gardens. The land, currently in the hands of Arexpo, a joint venture corporation, will attempt to redevelop the area and improve on the track record of past, extravagant Expos, such as Beijing and Seville.

"We think this is a chance to create a special place," says Gatto. "There's already lots of infrastructure and opportunity."

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Milan Expo 2015: Mixed Reviews on Opening Day [Curbed]