Expo 2000 opens this week in Hanover, which means that we can finally point to an act of architectural folly which makes the Dome look cheap.With an estimated cost of £1 billion, the project looks set to cost the German taxpayer some DM400m. That's the figure being touted around in the honeymoon period, on the basis of ludicrously optimistic visitor numbers. As we in Britain know all too well, figures have a habit of spiralling out of control.
Much has been made of the fact that the timber for the Swiss pavilion and the recycled paper for the Japanese pavilion will both be used again. Not wasteful at all then - so long as we overlook the manpower and machine power involved in design, construction, and dismantling; the cost of transporting materials to site; and the resources which have gone into marketing and publicising the event. There is something unpalatable about an event which purports to be concerned with sustainability yet wastes money on pavilions with little clear purpose. Especially when most of them will be unceremoniously scrapped when the show ends in October. In the face of such extravagance, reassurance that the paper used for the Japanese pavilion will be recycled as newsprint or toilet rolls seems little short of absurd.
Shigeru Ban, architect of the Japanese pavilion, is anything but absurd. This is a man who has used his extraordinary architectural talent to construct paper shelters for earthquake victims - structures of great beauty which also save lives. He, and the many other architects and engineers involved with the Expo, have important lessons to teach. Their contributions would be invaluable to, say, a conference on emergency shelters attended by aid organisations, volunteers and heads of state. But pressure to appeal to an audience of 40 million means that the message is reduced to the lowest common denominator, and Ban has produced a characteristically elegant structure which does little more than prove, for the umpteenth time, that the Japanese have a clever way with paper. Few could dislike the building. But it is often true that architecture which appeals to everybody doesn't appeal quite enough to make them want to visit.