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Our Summer Holidays - Swiss Expo 02
By Human Beans

In the middle of a wet London winter we find ourselves reminiscing over our pictures of sunnier times at Swiss Expo '02. Having heard that there was good stuff to see and what's more, fun to be had, we packed our bags to spend a few days of summer in the three lakes region of central Switzerland.

Expos are usually where individual countries promote themselves with extravagant pavilions and exhibitions illustrating their own brilliance. This was not a usual expo. The pavilions, events and attractions at Swiss Expo explored issues such as Health, Identity, Happiness, and why Swiss villages have such amusing names. The over ridding question was why? Was it educational - a common experience for an otherwise diverse country? We'll leave that for others to answer. What Swiss Expo offered was a glimpse of a near future that was design-wise incredibly 'of the moment'. A stunning design show that didn't even pretend to be one.

In an act of democracy and good thinking the expo was spread around four 'Arteplages'. Each site was situated in a town bordering one of the three lakes. Yverdon-les-Bains, Neuch‚tel, Biel/Bienne and Murten/Morat.. Half of the sites in the German speaking part of the country - half in the French speaking part. A fifth 'Arteplage' - 'Jura' was onboard a boat that traveled daily on the lakes between sites.

On reflection, the lasting impression of the expo is the 'lightness' of the sites. Typified by the Arteplage at Yverdon-les-Bains designed by the Extasia team including Dutch landscape architects West 8. Exploring the site at Yverdon, there was a feeling of 'just enough stuff'. An appropriate temporality to the structures and landscape that brought a relaxed air to the site. This didn't feel like money wasted or trees unnecessarily felled. Paths were denoted by different sized gravel, signage was printed on fabric, and buildings were made from stacks of logs. Everything felt like it had been or would be reused. Palais de L'equilibre (Palace of Equilibrium) at Arteplage Neuch‚tel was made from the reused timber of the Swiss Pavilion build at the Hanover Expo. Made entirely of wood, the building represented 7 minutes of timber growth from Swiss forests.

As well as the material lightness there was also a sophisticated lightness of touch with brand. Although sponsored by the biggest Swiss corporations, banks and supermarkets as well as the state, there was no hard sell, no big logos (well only a few), no official drink, snack or medication. This seemed light years away from the brandfest of the UK's millennium dome where the sponsors seemed to eclipse the experience itself.

The material and brand lightness served only to enhance the intellectual and sensual experience of the Expo. Good design and messages combined to engage the visitor on both rational and emotional level. Without ever feeling over-designed the smallest detail was filled with meaning and intention.

Delayed for several years, essentially because they wanted to get it right, the Expo showed great attention to detail, including well designed places to stay, effective signage, and humorous comments on the trash bins. All this with a gentleness of touch that made the experience in the broadest sense thoroughly pleasant. The Expo successfully engaged the individual in creative thought about health, consumption, communication, love and money without ever dictating a set of ideas.

The Swiss expo ran from May 15, 2002 - October 20, 2002. You can find out more about the exhibits online at www.expo02.ch






Ok it wasn't so sunny - Cloud by New York architects and Artists Diller + Scofidio

Yverdon-les-Bains Plan Image
Ich und das Universum (Me and the universe) - Arteplage Yverdon explored the senses and sexuality, the landscape park and architecture designed by Extasia team including West 8, Rotterdam and Vehova & Jauslin. Zurich (http://www.vj-arch.com/). Beds of different colored gravel form paths to guide you around the park in-between hills that hide more services and exhibitions.

Signage in the four national languages of Switzerland and printed on fabric here guides you through the hills and gravel beds of Yverdon.

Simple effective and elegant seating at Yverdon.

Wastebin in front of Oui! - where you could get officially married for 24 hours. One of the seemingly endless number of bins with humourous phrases in seemingly endless numbers of languages. Well we assume they were all funny. Markus Keller and Rolf Willi Zurich.

The graffitied exterior of 'Money and Value - the last taboo' at Biel/Bienne. Coated in layers of gold you were encouraged to carve messages into the wall reminiscent of anti-capitalist protests. IAAG architects.

'Grenzen (er)leben' - 'Exploring boundaries', Biel/Bienne a construction surrounded with a penetrable zone that challenged the notion of inside and outside.

Did you get married - was the most asked question between fellow visitors. 'Oui!' gave you the opportunity to marry whoever you choose for 24hrs. The architecture itself was literally dazzling. Fluorescent bright colored poles set against a gleaming white form - so white the 'minister' had to wear glasses. Married couples could be spotted around the park, their 24hr glow sticks indicating their bond.

Some things at the Expo leaned rather more heavily on the emotional, rather than the rational. A great example was 'Strangers in Paradise', at Arteplage Biel (in German) or Bienne (in French). This was a whirlwind ride on shopping trolley through a multistory clichÈd Switzerland, cows, gold, mountains and alpine Heidiland. A sublime experience sponsored by one of Switzerland's biggest supermarket chains.
migros.avi - watch the 2MB AVI file!

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