The brand new Italy Pavilion built specifically for the Milan Expo 2015 is an architectural marvel, showcasing the incredible versatility that precast brings to innovative design solutions.
The building features a branching façade of white precast concrete that represents an urban forest, and was the winning design in an international competition held in May 2013. "We imagined an architecture that would represent the idea of being together and the ability to recognize themselves as a community through an innovative, contemporary building taking into account the great tradition of the Italian architecture," says Michele Molè, founder and director of Nemesi & Partners, the architecture firm. The premise of the design was to create overlapping layers that come together as an enormous natural sculpture.
The intricate detailing was only possible using precast concrete because of the complex geometry of the building and the richness of the skin-sculpture that embraced it, says architect Ivo Allas. “The precast also permitted us to contain the costs by creating a geometric base-panel from which were conceived all the different, numerous variations."
Once the design was awarded, the team had just 2 years before the Expo would be inaugurated, which added incredible pressure to the project. “We had very few months to develop the design and only 1 year to build, says Susanna Tradati, associate partner at Nemesi. “At the same time we wanted to show to the world Italy’s ability to be innovative and personalize a unique design into a precast concrete skin.”
The geometric design on the outer envelope of the structure features a rich weave of branches reflecting the sculpted shapes of the Palazzo Italia. There is a repeated primary structural layer for each story, with three exterior architectural layers that are all different creating the unique design and visible ribs of the façade. At the base, the design is slightly inlaid then the shell rises in a seemingly random design with cut-out voids resulting from the intersection of “branches.”
The structural layer that connects the external branches to the structure, is masked by the branches themselves, allowing the panels to “freely fluctuate along the façade,” Tradati says.
Because the precast concrete panels can be viewed from both inside and outside the building, finishes were applied on all sides. Scrap material from marble quarries in Carrara was added to the mortar to add luster to the surface.
To erect the precast concrete panels, the construction team created special lifting machines that enabled them to move and turn each of the 700 panels into the right position. The final project was constructed in 14 months, meeting the inauguration deadline.
“This incredible design was enabled by the passion and dialogue between the architects of Nemesi the engineers of Styl-comp, and the team at Italcementi,” Tradati says. “Our continuous dialogue resulted in a final product that was even better than the original plan.”