It is not a pavilion that can be knocked down and reassembled, like others, a structure designed for new uses after Expo, but a building with a height of 35 meters on a base of 60x60x34 meters in concrete, steel and glass, on an area of over 14,000 m2. This is the first distinction of Palazzo Italia, the only pavilion conceived from the outset to remain here as a pole of technological innovation at the service of the city.

Located to the northwest of the Cardo (on the master plan of the site organized on the two perpendicular axes, the Cardo and Decumano, found in ancient Roman cities), it faces the large Piazza d’Acqua with the Tree of Life at its center, and is composed of four blocks (corresponding to the main functions – exhibition area, auditorium, offices and meeting rooms) connected by sinuous bridges and organized around a sheltered central plaza.

The artistic concept, based on the metaphor of the nest (like a seed of nourishment and welcome, a “nursery” of ideas and hopes), is by Marco Balich, the creative director of the Olympic games in Turin in 2006. The architectural design, the result of an international competition, is by the Rome-based studio Nemesi & Partners guided by Michele Molè (author of the ENI headquarters at San Donato, with the studio Morphosis) and Susanna Tradati.

The architectural concept is that of the “urban forest.” “We worked on the system of correlated activities,” Molè explains. “The architecture is in the interiors, formed by organic compressions and dilations of the spaces – under the large wave of the roof, made by Stahlbau Pichler, a symbol of the branch of the tree. A way to indicate the path along which the beauty and know-how of our country are displayed, with effects of rarefaction that make the central void the focal point of the design: a metaphor of the piazza, expression of the energy and sense of belonging of a community. All architecture, in the end, is a collective work of art.”

Then comes the construction, the high point of the project that reveals the concept of national pride: the material to produce the branching panels, designed by Nemesi as the cladding of Palazzo Italia and engineered by Styl-Comp of Bergamo, has been produced by Italcementi. It is a biodynamic cement, a material that approaches the theme of sustainability in a concrete way, responding to the priorities of the international competition.

This historic Italian industrial company, with experience at Universal Expositions (the Italian Pavilion at Shanghai 2010), developed the material in the i.lab of Stezzano (Bergamo), part of the iconic complex designed by Richard Meier.

What are the technical characteristics of this material known as i.active biodynamic? “It can be shaped, with fluid surfaces. It is obtained thanks to a special compound that also incorporates recycled materials (for less use of raw material) and it is based on the photocatalytic principle TX Active (an Italcementi patent): when there is light, it reflects it, but at the same time it becomes self-cleaning and removes pollution from the environment, capturing substances in the air and transforming them into inert salts, thus freeing the atmosphere of smog,” says Enrico Borgarello, Director of Research and Innovation of Italcementi.

So the weave of branches that exchanges energy with the environment in an osmotic way guarantees tangible performance reflecting the idea of the urban forest. The numbers? “9000 m2 of outer surface, 2000 tons of i.active biodynamic cement, over 700 panels with different formwork, 12,500 hours of research for the project.”


focus by Antonella Boisi – photos by Saverio Lombardi Vallauri and Luca Rotondo 

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Other view of Palazzo Italia. Other companies involved include Kartell, iGuzzini, Magis, Mapei, Marazzi, Ragno.
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The branching panels for the cladding of Palazzo Italia designed by Nemesi&Partners with Proger-Bms (structures and physical plant), Livio De Santoli (sustainability study) and produced by Italcementi, Styl-Comp, Stahlbau Pichler, Italiana Costruzioni.