30 June 2015
The Austrian response to the theme proposed by Expo Milan 2015 is a very interesting one, and far from obvious. The Alpine country has focused on the environment through a concrete contribution: the creation of a forest on two levels that is able to produce enough oxygen for 1800 visitors an hour and to absorb 92 kilos of carbon dioxide a day. The pavilion is a manifesto for the design of environmentally friendly buildings, constructed using technologies that make efficient use of the resources available in nature. Air is the first and most important food for the health of the globe is what the motto Breathe.Austria that runs across the façade seems to be suggesting. At the entrance, nebulizers have the task of giving relief to visitors who are feeling hot, and of introducing them to a wooded space covering 560 square meters, created with 12 000 trees and bushes that can reach up to twelve meters in height, 1200 shrubs and 120 square meters of moss. Walking along a narrow and winding path that slopes gently upward, they move quickly away from the hubbub of the Decumanus and are able to enjoy the scents of the forest, relax in the cool of a perfect microclimate and rest on the benches scattered along the route that leads to the Luft Bar (“Air Bar”). The intelligent interaction of nature and technology put into effect throughout the pavilion reduces the mechanical solutions of ventilation to the use of traditional fans in the central zone: it is the plants that cool the place with their shade. As a result, the temperature perceived inside the pavilion is 5 degrees centigrade lower than outside. Other environmental devices adopted include the use of cooling micro-drops produced by high-pressure systems that use as much as 90 per cent less water than traditional ones. The nebulization and irrigation systems are controlled by sensors that ensure the forest receives the right amount of water and nutrients. As a further guarantee of sustainability, power is supplied by a new solar cell based on the use of an organic dye. Called the Grätzel cell, it uses the energy of the sun to produce electric current that is then accumulated in the ELI electric vehicle parked next to the pavilion. The plywood cladding of the structure also helps to prevent the dispersal of the cool air of the forest. As well as allowing people to recover from the exertions of a visit to the Expo, the pragmatic approach of the designers—a multidisciplinary group made up of experts from the University of Technology in Graz and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna—provides an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between urban life and nature, through a brief but intense multisensory experience. No small thing.