Inside the U.S. Pavilion at the 2015 Expo in Milan

by Rahim Kanani | rahimkanani | Rahim Kanani Media Group, Inc
Thursday, 30 April 2015 21:54 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

One of the pavilion’s most distinguishing elements will be its 7,200-foot crop wall, the largest vertical farm ever built, growing over 40 different varieties of vegetables, grains and herbs to be harvested daily throughout the Expo’s duration,” explained Jerry Giaquinta, Chief Communication Officer of Friends of the USA Pavilion Milano 2015. In an interview, we discussed all aspects of the U.S. Pavilion, U.S. engagement on global food security, what the organizers hope visitors will take away from the Expo, and much more.

Expo Milano 2015 is the Universal Exhibition that Milan, Italy, will host from May 1 to October 31, 2015. Over this six-month period, Milan will become a global showcase where more than 140 participating countries will show the best of their technology that offers a concrete answer to a vital need: being able to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, while respecting the Planet and its equilibrium. In addition to the exhibitor nations, the Expo also involves international organizations, and expects to welcome over 20 million visitors to its 1.1 million square meters of exhibition area.

Tell me a little bit about your approach to the design of the U.S. Pavilion and what it represents. 

The USA Pavilion, themed “American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet”, is designed to showcase America’s unique role in the future of food around the world and create a global conversation about the challenge of feeding more than 9 billion people nutritiously by 2050. Expo Milano 2015 will enable the USA Pavilion to showcase the United States as an innovator not only in the food sector, but also in many aspects of culture, science and business. Feeding ourselves engages a massive infrastructure, advanced technologies, and dynamic systems that touch on just about every aspect of the world we live in. Each step from farm to table reflects a set of values and connections that impact our identities and shape our future. Through interactive exhibits and state-of-the-art digital media, the USA Pavilion will highlight American industry, products and entrepreneurship within the contexts of sustainability, nutrition and health, technology and innovation.

Designed by architect James Biber of the award-winning, New York-based firm Biber Architects, the 35,000 square-foot USA pavilion is a multi-level, barn-inspired structure characterized by openness, transparency and accessibility. The building was designed to include technology that is being employed to create more sustainable, accessible food ecosystems. Leading visitors through a series of stimulating spaces and exhibitions, the USA Pavilion will tell stories of American innovation and technology, while also celebrating the nation’s rich and diverse agricultural history.

One of the pavilion’s most distinguishing elements will be its 7,200-foot crop wall – the largest vertical farm ever built, growing over 40 different varieties of vegetables, grains and herbs to be harvested daily throughout the Expo’s duration. The dynamic wall incorporates Bright Agrotech’s ZipGrow Tower vertical farming technology and customized mechanization to maximize plant exposure to the sun, along with GE grow lights for plants in the greenhouse and inside the pavilion exhibits, hydroponic plant feeding and water capture technology. Other features include an expansive walkway made of repurposed wood from the Hurricane Sandy-savaged Coney Island boardwalk, and a rooftop terrace protected by a 10,000 square-foot canopy of SPD-SmartGlass panels, the largest installation of its kind, that instantly adjusts its color and opacity in response to environmental conditions.

What are some of the specific issues you plan on highlighting throughout the space?

Through interactive “American Food 2.0” exhibits and state-of-the-art digital media, the USA Pavilion will highlight American industry, products, entrepreneurship and diversity within the contexts of sustainability, nutrition and health, technology, and innovation. Committed to its “United to Feed the Planet” mantra, the U.S. will use Expo Milano 2015 as an opportunity for open dialogue on the future of food and to strengthen bilateral ties with Italy, Europe and the rest of the global community in order to tackle food-system challenges together. The United States Pavilion will present American leadership and responsibility in the global food arena, underscoring the nation’s role in advancing food security and sustainability through science, technology, innovation and free trade. The USA Pavilion will also foster awareness of and enthusiasm for American cuisine, chefs, products and purveyors, highlighting American talent, ingenuity and entrepreneurship. 

In the larger context, what does the theme--Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life--mean to you?

The U.S. will be an active partner within the global community to address the enormous challenges of feeding 9 billion people on the planet by 2050. The USA Pavilion will have a number of programs to highlight this. One of the most notable is the partnership with Microsoft and Atelier Slice to launch Feeding the Accelerator; as part of the USA Pavilion’s innovation programming, this project will offer up to twelve teams a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in a business accelerator in the context of the largest gathering of food system experts in history to incubate ground-breaking solutions to global food challenges. The program will also feature a combination of workshops, seminars, lectures, discussions and food-labs with guest lecturers, chefs and mentors from across the entire food system spectrum. 36-hour hackathons will provide teams with a unique chance to create innovative, network-based solutions to specific food and technology problems.

The USA pavilion will also host and participate in a variety of conferences and events during the six-month Expo; from daily talks on innovation and inspiration to live cooking demonstrations, these programmatic activities will focus on providing a platform for dialogue and solutions to global food challenges that support the notion of American Food 2.0 and the overall Expo theme, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”.

What do you hope visitors will learn or realize after visiting the U.S. Pavilion?

The USA Pavilion will feature an assortment of programs, activities and events pertaining to its “American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet” theme. It will enlighten and surprise all who attend, welcoming wide-ranging perspectives and sowing common ground across the food, nutrition and policy spectrum. The USA Pavilion aims to share America’s food story and demonstrate how complex and sophisticated it is.

The pavilion will also pose questions to visitors about food security issues, responding in unexpected, fun and delicious ways. Diversity is at the heart of USA culture, from the immigrants who have settled there to the rich atmosphere of innovation in our research institutions. On a foundation of our heritage, with an eye toward the constant changes that shape our future, the Pavilion will explore global food security and American food culture through a variety of exhibits. A key theme is that each of us are one in nine billion, and the choices we make about how we feed ourselves today will impact our world tomorrow. 

Finally, what are some of the events or activities you're most looking forward to during the 6-month run of the Expo? 

Food Truck Nation: One of the pavilion’s most alluring elements is Food Truck Nation, an edible exhibit of custom-built food trucks that will serve an array of iconic regional American street food. 

Pavilion activities: The American pavilion will host and participate in a variety of conferences and events during the six-month fair; from daily talks on innovation and inspiration to live cooking demonstrations, these activities will focus on providing a platform for dialogue and solutions to global food challenges that support the notion of American Food 2.0 and the overall Expo theme, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”.

James Beard American Restaurant: Located in the heart of Milan, the James Beard American Restaurant will host more than 50 of America’s most renowned chefs. This “Culinary Dream Team”, a rotating roster of culinary talent, will serve five-course, prix-fixe meals showcasing the best of the Unites States’ innovative, diverse cuisine.        

Student Ambassadors: From May to October 2015, some of America’s best and brightest students will represent the nation as on-the-ground ambassadors for the USA Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015. This dynamic group of 120 American college students, serving as docents for the pavilion, represent 34 States, 94 universities and collectively speak 28 languages.

Jerry Giaquinta is a professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. He has over 25 years executive experience in marketing and communications at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Mercedes Benz, and Chiat Day Communications. He was Senior Advisor at Expo Aichi, 2005.

The U.S. Department of State has selected the Friends of the USA Pavilion Milano 2015 as its private sector partner to work with the U.S. government to develop and implement an official American presence at the Expo. The Friends of the USA Pavilion includes the James Beard Foundation (JBF) and the International Culinary Center (ICC), in association with the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy.