East 59

A seed in the city


Interview with Michele De Lucchi, the architect of the Pavilion project that will be opening during the Expo.


Unicredit Pavilion opens during the year of the Expo Milano 2015, but unlike other things you’re working on for the event, this is supposed to be a lasting investment. How did you approach these different challenges?

The Pavilion is meant to redesign a new part of the city that is expected to radically change Milan’s urban landscape by reshaping its current structure; this was the primary consideration I had to address. The Expo, on the other hand, is about optimizing and improving land use, bearing in mind the temporary nature of the buildings so that the space could be exploited without jeopardizing its future use. Today, it’s become increasingly essential to come up with solutions that can add value to the land that is being used.

In our times, unlike what happened in the past, it’s no longer necessary to build architecture that is meant to defy eternity and end up cluttering the planet.

What inspired the shape of the Pavilion and what is its relationship with the surrounding district which is expected to become Milan’s business centre?

The seed shape is what links the green space of the park to the modern business quarter thatsets the tone for the area and is defined by the towers, which give it its form and identity. The technical element and its significance: what is meant by “without foundations”? We have to build without using up more virgin land; we can’t afford to occupy more space. The fact that the building couldn’t have foundations was a technical constraint imposed by the site where the Pavilion was to be built and an additional challenge for me. It gave me the chance to put my ideas into practice without impinging on the natural environment. 

The choice of materials. In other cities, similar structures (the Sydney Opera House, the Esplanade in Singapore) have opted for a modern covering, while in this case you preferred to use a timeless material: wood. Did you wish to create a contrast with the glass towers or is the wood supposed to recall nature and the architecture of the past?

The choice of materials, more than the shape, was related to the times we live in. Our times are very different from the ones in which those buildings were first built – the ‘70s and ‘90s respectively – and so are the needs and requirements that architecture must satisfy. Over the years, the wood will show the passing of time by revealing the ageing process. Thanks to its natural oxidation, it represents transience against permanence better than any other material.

In addition to functionality, these days architecture must also be sustainable, how did this influence your Pavilion project?

Respect for the environment. Today, architecture must address this issue if it is to lend a hand in making our world increasingly sustainable. It’s no longer feasible to put up buildings that consume and waste more resources than is absolutely necessary.

In Italy we have some of the most beautiful historic centres in the world and some of the ugliest suburbs in Europe. The Pavilion will now help to upgrade what once was considered a suburb and ideally project Milan into the future. Is this another challenge architecture is expected to meet?

The suburbs have always housed the poorer sectors of the city and that explains the lack of attention paid to these areas in the past. However, things are changing and now architecture is called upon to revive the suburbs because they are the gateway into the city: its calling card. If we consider them as part of the city landscape, this gives us the chance to transform them and not just because the inhabitants are crying out for it but because it’s essential for the entire city. What’s going to be harder to manage is the anthropological transformation of the historic centres that has been taking place in recent years. A mutation that, particularly in certain cities, goes hand in hand with a tendency for people to move out, which has yet to be properly understood and will be difficult to tackle.

What do you think of the Milan skyline, unchanged for 50 years and then transformed in the blink of an eye?

It’s amazing to realise how such a radical change can take place in such a short time and I think it’s wonderful! 

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