Not a building but a place
In the summer of 2025 the World Expo will take place on an artificial island off the coast of the Japanese city of Osaka. Commissioned by SPI and in collaboration with OKRA landscape architects and DAY (interior and exhibition designers), architectural studio ZJA has created a design for the Dutch pavilion.
Since sustainability, the restoration of nature and healthy living are the overarching themes of the exhibition, ZJA sought a starting point for the design by opting to make it as circular as possible, in other words by minimizing the use of imported building materials. As a logical consequence the decision was made that it might be even better to design not a building but a special place, where visitors could experience the Dutch perspective on the themes of the exhibition, and to create the minimal structure that would still be needed from local materials, using the ground itself to make walls of stamped earth.
The location on the site is exceptional, at the corner of a series of pavilions and a square, with access nearby to the big timber gallery, seventeen metres high, that offers a view out over the exhibition. It is ideal for the creation of a scenic and open effect.
Valley landscape and a cloud
The cultivated landscape in the broad river delta that is the Netherlands seemed to be the most powerful image on which to base the design for the allocated spot in Osaka. The low horizon, the water-rich surroundings that reflect the sky, the ever-present clouds, the flat or gently rolling open spaces, surrounded by birch and willow, crisscrossed by streams and ditches, is the perfect setting in which to present the Dutch outlook on nature restoration, water management and healthy living.
As an eyecatcher, a cloud made of spinnaker nylon rears twelve metres above everything. The air-filled textile can move with the wind. The cloud turns the location into a place, because of the three glass cylinders on which it rests, each placed at an angle, and because of the shadow it throws over the assembled mini-forest, meadow and waterside landscape, with their artificial stream. A ramp with a winding track leads visitors through this stylized valley landscape, past what are called ‘moments of experience’, with projections and audio works. The rainwater captured in an underground reservoir is pumped up to flow along the stream, over a small waterfall and from the high ground down past the glass cylinders.
Visitors see, feel, smell and experience a miniature, stylized version of a Dutch landscape. The presentation evokes similarities between the way the Dutch deal with water, landscape and nature and Japanese notions of the profound significance of natural forces, and of the regenerative potential for humans of woods and water.
The supporting functions are housed in an underground space below the valley landscape. In keeping with the circular logic and in a reference to the ancient Dutch custom of building raised mounds called terpen, no concrete is involved. The space is constructed with the help of stabilized stamped earth. As well as for the walls and the floors, the excavated earth has been used to create the forest garden and the valley landscape on the roof of the basement, which accommodates the toilets, technical spaces, a shop and a large space that can serve as a meeting room, shop or hospitality venue. A separate ramp gives access to the basement, so that streams of visitors can easily be separated.
The glass cylinders bring plenty of daylight into the basement. The dancing light that enters through the water of the flowing stream and through the glass ceiling makes a lively connection with the world above. In combination with the walls of stamped earth, it creates an extraordinary atmosphere.
An inspiring biotope
This design by ZJA, OKRA and DAY for the Dutch pavilion is not simply a reference to the Dutch landscape. In the design choices, the audio-visual presentations and the layout of the landscape, connections are made between concepts and practices that Japan and the Netherlands share when it comes to looking for a sustainable way of treating nature and the landscape, with a focus on recovery and health.
The ideas of Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki in the 1980s about the restoration of natural woodland and the development of food forests can be found in the pavilion. In the mini-biotope is a wooded area with willows and birches, a meadow area with native ground-cover plants, and Japanese grass, dogwood and magnolias. In the area close to the stream are irises and sweet flag, plants that are at home in Japan and are also reminiscent of the Netherlands.
This design makes a major gesture, by drawing the attention away from building volume and styling, and by furnishing an open space with a playful eyecatcher to fill visitors with inspiration and amazement at the Dutch landscape. Anyone allowing themselves to be carried along will feel an involvement with the underlying values that are at stake in designing a circular, healthy environment in which people and nature live in harmony.
Design interior and exhibition: DAY
Landscape architect: OKRA Landschapsarchitecten
Year: Design competition 2023