Palazzo Italia: An Inspiration for Smart and Innovative Concrete from Disruption

As far back as the Industrial Revolution, countries have regularly met at world fairs or expos to compare their technological and innovation advances in many fields. As time progressed many nations began to embrace this concept by constructing new pavilions to express their unique world-standing through architecture. This can often include the use of local landscapes, regional materials, production methods and technologies associated with the various host countries.

It is with this tradition in mind that the Palazzo Italia (Italian Pavilion) was constructed for Expo 2015 in Milan.

The structure was a visible symbol of commitment to conservation and sustainability, and the vibrant heart of Expo 2015.

The architectural design envisages the construction of a complex structure, the exterior and some interior spaces of which, recall the shapes of branches in a thick forest. In fact, rising 35 metres from the foot of the structure to the top of the front wall is a tangle of branch-like concrete elements, constructed using environmentally active titanium-oxide mortar. This gives the Pavilion a post-modern look, similar to that of an urban forest.

The 9000m3 façade is a dazzling white, made all the more intense through the addition of a fine Carrara marble powder to the mix. The sustainable mortar comprised 80% recycled materials. The aim was for the design to take its inspiration from nature while retaining a modern and innovative feel, and calling to mind the long tradition of Italian architecture.

The complex structure included the manufacture of more than 700 concrete branch panels using a special, high-performance cement-based mortar offering high flexural strength. As such the entire outdoor surface and part of the interior consist of these BIODYNAMIC concrete (2000 tons in total) panels.

The ‘bio’ component is given by the product’s photocatalytic properties, originating from the active ingredient TX Active, patented by Italcementi. In direct sunlight, the active principle contained in the material ’captures’ certain pollutants present in the air and converts them into inert salts, helping to purify the atmosphere from smog. The ‘dynamic’ component is a specific characteristic of the new material whose particular fluidity allows the creation of complex shapes like those found in the Palazzo Italia panels.

The Palazzo Italia is an amazing structure that shows what can be achieved with incredible innovation in the face of disruption due to environmental and sustainability concerns. The project is a past winner of the American Concrete Institute’s Awards for Excellence and is an inspiration to all Concrete 2021 participants when considering the theme ‘Smart and Innovative Concrete from Disruption’.

About the author

Desi Corbett

Desi is the Editor of Concrete in Australia and at the helm of our magazine for eight years. She was behind the Institute's weekly news bulletins from 2016-2021 and is now writing our focused news items. Desi has been an engineering news and features journalist/editor across all disciplines since 2013 - part of a 30-year career writing for a wide range of industries.