Idiosyncratic and ingenious

When in 1990 Moshé Zwarts and Rein Jansma learned they had won the competition to do the design for the Dutch Pavilion at the 1992 World Expo in Sevilla, they realized that among many things this meant they had to start an architectural firm together. This became ZJA.

It was actually a big commission and their design was atypical to say the least. A pavilion at a World Expo is a huge showcase through which multitudes of people pass, and this only for a brief period of time. Add to these facts that there was a limited budget and that the Expo was to be held in the summertime, in Sevilla, one of the hottest cities in Europe. This is how Zwarts and Jansma arrived at  a design, that was as functional as it was radical.

The building consisted of nine towers, constructed from steel tubing, that supported the floors. Escalators transported the throngs of visitors upwards, past the floors where the Dutch landscape was celebrated and national agriculture and industry was showcased. On the upper floor, in a climate-controlled environment, paintings by famed Dutch masters were shown, from Rembrandt to Mondriaan. A majestic single escalator took the visitors down to the atrium again.

The first and basic design decision made was by conceiving the temporary pavilion as a prefabricated kit. All the parts were produced in the Netherlands and assembled on site. Obviously with the intention to dismantle the structure and use it at another location later. It had to be as lightweight as possible and easily transportable. With its facade made of woven synthetic tissue it looked simple yet mysterious. It was almost transparent.

Curious and optimistic

The building looked simple, with critics calling it a parking garage, but it was filled with ingenious techniques and new materials. With Sevilla being so hot in the summer, but close to rivers and lakes, Zwarts and Jansma were inspired to create a self-cooling building. Made out of custom made hi-tech synthetic tissue, the facade was permanently sprayed with water. The hot dry air made the water evaporate thereby cooling the interior. The roof also had a cooling function. Air cushions made out of synthetic foil were placed between three steel roof panels. Their reflecting outside and transparent inside, allowing light to enter, gave the air cushions an insulation effect, keeping the heat out.

A characteristic design

The Dutch Sevilla Pavilion is not just an outspoken calling card for the Netherlands, that showed itself as a self-assured, inventive and pragmatic nation. Its design is also the embodiment of the way of thinking and designing that would characterize ZJA from the start. Its features are a curious and optimistic look at the design questions at hand and an inventor’s attitude focused on functionality, context and sustainability. In this design it is recognizable in the choice for a detachable and mobile construction and in the application of an age-old cooling technique, enhanced by new materials and the use of experimental elements like the inflatable roof.

This is one of ZJA’s very first designs, but it is still pointing to the future. The future being for light, flexible and if possible temporary constructions, circular design and minimal energy use. And always with an eye for elegant and transparent spaces, giving the users a good and pleasurable experience.

Client: Multi Vastgoed
Year: 1992