Italy’s eco-friendly Expo pavilion is made from orange peel and coffee grounds

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With three full-size seaworthy boat hulls as the roof and a facade made of nautical ropes made from recycled plastic, Italy’s pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020 embodies the concept of reusable design.

Benefiting from its excellent placement within the expo site – between the topics of “opportunity” and “sustainability” and with a seamless front and side view – the pavilion drew a fifth of the total visitors to the event during the opening weeks and was thus one of the most successful.

“The biggest inspiration behind our design is the circular economy,” said architect Italo Rota, referring to the idea of ​​recycling, repairing and reusing waste materials instead of simply throwing them away.

Rota is one of the designers of the pavilion and has worked extensively in Paris, where he curated the lighting for both Notre-Dame Cathedral and the banks of the Seine. “The nautical ropes themselves are an example of this (the circular economy): They were made by recycling 2 million plastic bottles and together they reach a length of 70 kilometers (43 miles). These are already planned for further recycling after the expo. “

Reducing the amount of waste at the end of the event was also a priority for co-designer Carlo Ratti, an architect and engineer who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “One thing I don’t like about temporary events – like various international exhibitions or the Olympic Games – is that after a few weeks or months a huge amount of garbage ends up in landfills. That is why we wanted the Italian pavilion to address the temporary nature of Dubai Expo 2020. Most of the architectural elements are recycled or recyclable, reused or reusable. “

Both Rota and Ratti already have experience of world exhibitions as they worked on projects for the last edition, which took place in Milan in 2015. The current exhibition, which has been postponed from opening last year due to the pandemic and therefore keeps its nickname “2020”, will remain open in Dubai until the end of March 2022.

The pavilion incorporates reusable design into its structure – through the use of organic elements like orange peel and coffee grounds in the building materials – and has a natural climate mitigation system that uses shading, fogging, and ventilation to replace air conditioning. There are no conventional walls, instead the nautical ropes delimit the exhibition space and also function as a multimedia surface through the use of LEDs that display different colors and images.

Italy’s pavilion features a nautical rope facade made from 2 million recycled plastic bottles. Credit: Michele Nastasi

Upon entering, visitors are on a skywalk 11 meters above the ground and directly under the first hull.

Attractions include the “Belvedere,” a dome structure covered in wild Mediterranean herbs believed to be reminiscent of Renaissance gardens, and a 3D-printed replica of Michelangelo’s famous statue of David, made from detailed scans of the original from the 16th century. It was made in Florence in the 17th century. The 17-foot figure extends over two floors and its lower half is surrounded by a rotunda, which somewhat restricts the view in favor of its head and upper body. “We find it stimulating for visitors not only to look at David from below, as in the original in Florence, but to look him straight in the eye,” says Ratti.
The 3D printed replica of Michelangelo's David.

The 3D printed replica of Michelangelo’s David. Credit: GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP / AFP via Getty Images

In the spirit of experimenting with different ways of bringing the natural and artificial world together, the structure rests on a five meter high dune made of sand from the region. The inner paths and walkways are adorned with 160 botanical species, a project developed in collaboration with botanists from the Italian National Research Council.

The boat hulls that make up the roof were built by Fincantieri, one of Europe’s largest shipbuilders, and there’s a chance they’ll be turned into actually functioning boats at some point, Ratti says.

However, there are ongoing talks about converting the pavilion into a design center after the World’s Fair ends. “In this way, the boat hulls could become victims of their own success,” says Ratti, “and it can take longer before they set sail.”


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