Expo 2000 – NL

On June 1 next, the EXPO 2000 world exhibition opens in Hanover. The NL pavilion designed by MVRDV is in many senses the highlight of the enormous exhibition grounds. ArchiNed will be providing coverage in a number of News Reports. First subject: the NL pavilion.

Dutch pride was much in evidence during the international press preview on Thursday last week. Rumours that the NL pavilion will be the biggest hit at this EXPO are not exaggerated; that the Dutch contribution to the EXPO will go unnoticed is inconceivable. Almost all other pavilions and exhibition buildings are low-lying in comparison to the NL pavilion. 'We' literally stand well above the rest. But there are other differences. Under the motto 'Holland Creates Space', the available site has largely been left untouched. That alone makes the NL pavilion much more visible. An added advantage is that the Dutch site is situated beside the main stop of the Expo Cable Car. In terms of prominence, it couldn't be better placed. And lastly, the architecture differs emphatically from the pavilions of all other countries.

The architectural concept for the pavilion is perhaps considered well known by now: a stacking of landscapes that illuminate the theme of this EXPO (Mankind-Nature-Technology), but the concept also sheds light on the uniquely Dutch capacity to mould and orchestrate nature and landscape. In practice, this layering of landscapes works better than expected. The wooded landscape in particular, the trees of which function as bearing structure, is very convincing. The wind turbines on the roof stood still even with a stiff breeze, but in reality that too is much the same.

Most EXPO pavilions are vessels for the presentations contained within. Architecture does play a role, but mostly just as 'decorated sheds'. The NL pavilion deviates to a great extent from that: here the architecture itself is the most important item on display. The presentations to be housed in the pavilion were not in place for the press visit, but they cannot amount to very much. There simply isn't the room. The pavilion itself is the statement. And what's more, a statement that expresses the ideas of MVRDV. In the context of physical planning in the Netherlands, the idea of doing away with an even distribution of programme across the landscape and, instead, applying the principle of local thinning-out (Light Urbanism) and increased density (Farmax) is an MVRDV proposition. Moreover, the vertical layering of different programmes (in this case, landscapes) is a concept developed by OMA for the subsequently aborted project for the Media Centre in Karlsruhe. Both Winy Maas and Jacob van Rijs were working for OMA at that time. As MVRDV, they have translated this into, amongst other things, a vertical stacking of parks. In terms of construction, each layer of the pavilion has its own particular bearing structure. This idea, too, comes from the MVRDV-OMA stable (and the structural engineers Cecil Balmond and ABT).

World Exhibitions once provided a setting for showcasing industrial and technological innovations. That role has long since been assumed by faster media such as television and Internet. Recent Expos have increasingly become advertising vehicles for national promotion. Public relations offices have provided the multi-media presentations for almost all Western nations. Accordingly, the interiors of these pavilions are completely interchangeable. If you've seen one, you've seen them all. Differences are, for the most part, limited to the architecture of the pavilion. In that sense, it is to the credit of the Dutch contribution that its pavilion's architecture and the physical layout of the available site form the actual exhibition. The multi-media presentation is clearly of lesser significance.

Still unchanged, however, is the one regular feature of all Dutch contributions to all Expos: the Heineken beer tent, which here, again, protrudes from the pavilion like a sore thumb.