Milan Expo 2015: The Pavilions – the best of the rest

Words by Johnny Tucker

Vanke Pavilion

Architecture Libeskind Studio
Exhibition design Ralph Applebaum
Area 870 sq m (12m high)

In some ways it seems slightly incongruous to have someone like Daniel Libeskind -- the man working at Ground Zero in New York and also responsible for the Jewish Museum in Berlin -- creating a temporary corporate marketing pavilion for a giant Chinese property developer.

That said, the Vanke Pavilion, near the centre of the Expo site, is certainly one of the best at the show both in terms of the Libeskind structure and the content within, created by exhibition designer Ralph Applebaum.

As ever Libeskind, who has an apartment and a studio office in Milan, looked to find a narrative connection as his starting point and found it in his love of the paddy-field-stratified hillsides of China.

Vanke Pavilion

The form was wrought using 'Euclidean geometry' and physical modelling, and the mention of parametric modelling elicits a strong negative reaction. 'I love the Chinese landscape, the incredible mountains and formations, and I have a big collection of books of Chinese art, and this was my starting point,' says Libeskind. 'But then, when I finished the project, everybody saw the dragon and then I discovered that the symbolism of the dragon underlies the symbolism of the mountains -- they are the living earth -- so it was very appropriate, even though it wasn't something in my mind.'

It was probably the final touch of cladding the structure in red, scale-like, ceramic tiles that led people to that conclusion. It feels like a coiled reptile: a sleeping dragon -- Vanke, while barely known outside China, is the country's largest residential real-estate developer...

Vanke Pavilion

Inside, subtlety abounds as multiple small screens hang from bamboo poles (a scaffolding reference) above pools of reflecting water.

The screens show a Koyaanisqatsi-like film shot specifically for the pavilion, which addresses the fact that 'in the past 10 years a population equivalent to the total of the United States flowed from the country to the urban area.'

Libeskind is currently working with Vanke on the Zhang Zhidong and Modern Industrial Museum, in Wuhan, China's first privately funded museum.

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