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Buttress: UK's Milan Expo pavilion celebrates what is good about being British

The lead designer on the UK’s Milan Expo 2015 pavilion, Wolfgang Buttress, talks to the AJ about making every pound count and his hopes of emulating the success of the London 2012 opening ceremony

The budget for the Milan pavilion [£6million] is nowhere near that of Thomas Heatherwick’s headline-grabbing Shanghai project – how has that impacted on your design?
We’ve about four times less [money available for the scheme] than last time. So we knew right from the beginning that we had to make our difficult 100m by 20m site interesting with a limited budget.
So we made what we had work as best as it could – we had to do a lot with as little as possible. One way to do it efficiently was with planting.

Will the UK pavilion be as ‘architectural’ as other countries’?
It is an antithesis to many of the other pavilions. It is very experiential.
The designs are not as showy [as other pavilions]. It is very quiet – not loud and crass. We are trying to use materials where there is a beauty in the repetition and patterns.
By being quieter I hope we are able to shout louder.  
There has been a lot of work done on the architecture – but much of the programme is underground.

Explain the other drivers for the designs.
The pavilion celebrates what is good about being British, both creatively and culturally. I’d like it to have something of Danny Boyle’s Olympic 2012 Opening Ceremony in a way.  It’s about music, culture, food and a journey.

It is about taking a part of the British countryside out [to Italy]. But I was also surprised how wet it is in Milan in the summer – it is twice as wet as London is in August. So when specifying our wildflowers we had to choose something that can cope with the Milanese conditions.

Many wanted Heatherwick’s highly successful Shanghai Expo pavilion returned to the UK and rebuilt. Instead it was dismantled and its 60,000 acrylic rods given to charity. What will become of yours after the Expo?
‘Various people have already approached me about the ‘hive’ and taking it back to become a permanent space in the UK – perhaps as a sculpture in a park. In some way it will come back as a memory legacy of the Expo

‘The building element, because of its construction, could be reused as a school or gallery.’

Fly-through of Wolfgang Buttress' proposed UK pavilion at the Milan Expo 2015

‘So much can be genuinely recycled, including the planting.’

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