Modernism and Seville’s Expo ’92

The architects commissioned for Seville’s fair (the first universal exposition since Osaka’s in 1970) seem to concur that straightforward Modernism would be more resonant with the public than Post Modernism or Deconstructivism, the avantgarde movements of the intervening decades. This is not to say that Seville’s fair will be simply a rerun: High Tech, the Modern Movement’s godchild, will be a new (and lively) presence on the scene. It’s also a convenient mode for sponsors to affirm their faith in progress and foster good will among the millions visiting the fair.

Nicholas Grimshaw, a British exponent of High Tech, turned Seville’s triple-digit afternoon temperatures to advantage. Given his premise — that a glass box provides a gesture of welcome for the United Kingdom’s pavilion (2) — the mechanical trappings he overlaid are essential climatic responses. While critics may argue that the glass box is out of place in Spain, it would be unfair to dismiss this elegant structure as a misplaced building: Its mechanical systems substantiate Grimshaw’s High-Tech aspirations. Solar collectors on the roof will provide electricity to pump water for a cascade into an interior pool. Louvers on the north and south walls will deflect the sun’s rays, and the western wall will be a massive structure of sand-filled cells to absorb the heat of the afternoon sun.

Going a step beyond the transparent facade, Jean-Paul Viguier and Jean-Francois Jodry dematerialized the walls of the French Pavilion (3, 4): The main space will be a glass-paved podium sheltered by a broad blue roof and open on three sides. The architects’ motives were both climatic and ideological: The freely accessible square is a shaded respite and a metaphor for the egalitarian ideals that spread from France to the New World. Neo-Classical in inspiration, this pavilion evokes Boullee’s visionary designs: It is likely to impress, and perhaps inadvertantly, overwhelm visitors> a few human-scale references might be in order.

Science and culture, which Viguier considers essential complements of modern society, are the themes of the pavilion’s paired exhibit areas: Its Protocol Building, whose mirrored facade will overlook the plaza, will house displays on art and history. Below the glass pavers of the plaza, moving sidewalks will lead visitors through an experimental theater-in-the-round with mirrored walls that reflect an infinite array of images.

The United States Pavilion (5, 6) by Barton Myers Associates is a modest work of architecture — not in size, but in its measure of creativity. Devices typical of many pavilions, from water walls and moving sidewalks to vast awnings recur here without benefit of a strong design parti. Instead, one finds a series of windowless boxes arranged around three outdoor spaces in a manner better suited for an office park than the American world’s fair pavilion. A bit more exuberance and a more rigorous plan would have been welcome.

The Danish Pavilion (7-9) by Krohn & Hartvig Rasmussen Architects will be a minimalist sculpture that doubles as a building. A wall of arced sails, built of plywood, will furnish a powerful image evocative of Columbus’s ships as well as the Sydney Opera House. The curved profile has spatial dividends, too: it defines a soaring exhibit space within, comparable to a church nave or an airship hangar. The concave walls (which serve as movie screens) will be supported by trusses that lean toward an 8-story building for secondary exhibits and functions. Like some work by Saarinen, Utzon, and other midcentury Modernists, the Danish Pavilion’s initial impact is purely formal: Here, the steel structure seems to have followed, but not coincided with, the genesis of the architectural object. Unlike their High-Tech counterparts, Krohn & Hartvig Rasmussen give priority to the spatial enclosure instead of to the structure> they offer no sign of how the frame in the multistory building supports the tilted trusses.

Tadao Ando’s Japanese pavilion (10, 11), like an ancient wooden temple, will be a retreat from the mundane to the world of the imagination. While Ando’s reputation is predicated on his intuitive control of light and space with concrete (pp. 74-79 and P/A, Feb. 1990, pp. 83-97.) he seems equally talented in wood construction. Judging from Ando’s drawings and model, this pavilion will be more lyrical and figurative than his work in poured concrete. A monumental arched bridge, modeled on the taikobashi that traditionally marked a transition from this world to the next, will lead visitors to the uppermost of four exhibit levels. Translucent Teflon roof panels will filter light above ten clustered columns, each crowned by an enormous trabeated capital. Like the concave walls that are braced by tensile rods, the overscaled capitals keep the simple building from becoming a simplistic one> it is held taut by Ando’s subtle distortions of tradition.

 

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