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Italian Architecture in Spotlight at Expo

2010. 19 April

by Silvia Marchetti
( For the first time in history, Italian architecture will be presented to the Chinese public at the Shanghai Expo as national top excellence blending design and technology, a leading architect told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"Italy's top design is not merely the Ferrari, fashion and good food but also our century-old architecture that has created such marvels as the Leaning Tower of Pisa,"
Braccio Oddi Baglioni said.

Oddi Baglioni, president of the Italian Association of Engineering, Architectural and Technical-Economic Consulting Organizations (OICE), looks forward to the expo as an opportunity to spread awareness on this particular form of Italian know-how and concepts.

In fact, architecture has always been considered as a sort of "Cinderella" among Italy's excellences and the OICE president believes it's time to change the perspective by boosting promotion efforts.

"The occasion for doing this is the Shanghai Expo, where for the first time Italian architecture will be given the place it deserves with a one-month exhibition titled 'Italian High Design and Quality,' scheduled for September. It's a real record, especially since it will also be the first time we organize an exhibition in China."

The exposition will be showcasing 10 projects that have passed an international online competition for the restyling of the Old Silk Road, a strategic commercial path in ancient times leading from Europe to China and traveled by Marco Polo and other Venetian merchants.

The winning projects will be placed on a three-dimensional map of the Silk Road, running for 20 meters along one of the walls of the exposition room.

"The Silk Road has always represented a bridge between Italy and China. Through the online competition we aim to launch a cultural challenge and foster innovative ideas on how to make the ancient path relive under a modern perspective in a bid to further unite our two worlds," Oddi Baglioni said.

"Everyone can take part in the competition, both Italians and Chinese, designers, poets and writers as well, though I believe the majority of participants will be architects," he said.

A mixed Italian-Chinese committee will examine the projects and choose 10 winners, who will be granted a 10,000 euros (13,500 U.S. dollars) prize and the privilege of showcasing their restyling of the Silk Road at the Shanghai Expo. The competition is still ongoing and Oddi Baglioni expects more than 100 participants.

The internal area of the architecture exposition will have a hexagonal structure representing the ideal Renaissance city. There will be a total of six thematic corners all related to the application of high design and innovative architecture to the bettering of life and city quality.

Each corners will have an interactive and multimedia touch-screen where visitors may find helpful information and models.

The screen of the mobility corner, for example, will be showing the newly restyled underground subway stations of Naples, a mix of sophisticated design and figurative art. The youth corner will be instead dedicated to the promotion of young Italian architects.

Oddi Baglioni stressed that in recent years Italian architecture, thanks to the rise of a new generation of designers, has penetrated global markets.

"Differently from the past our work today is well known and very much appreciated around the world. We are starting to export Italian architecture with success. As OICE president, I'm very proud."

Italian architects and engineers are quite popular in Algeria, he said, where they are frequently commissioned to build hospitals and apartments. But access to the Chinese market remains a tough challenge and this is why the Shanghai Expo will be a great occasion to boost contacts and business opportunities.

"China's rapid urbanization process represents an opportunity we cannot miss. The Chinese have the right engineering skills but we have the creativity, quality design, restoration and restyling capacities," he observed, adding that the mixture of these two different aspects has incredible potentialities.

A Tuscany-based firm is currently restructuring some ancient Buddhist temples in China with innovative technologies, he said. According to Oddi Baglioni, the Italian design and concept have a great appeal in China and he hopes this trend will increase after the Shanghai Expo.

The OICE is part of Confindsutria, Italy's main industrial confederation, and member of the European Federation of Engineering Consultancy Associations.