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Lithuania Is Picking the Outfit for EXPO

There are merely 500 days left until the world EXPO 2020 to design and build the Lithuanian pavilion and furnish it with an exposition to represent our country, to gather the team of guides to work there during the event, as well as make the arrangements for the informative and cultural programme. Romas JANKAUSKAS, Commissioner General of the Lithuanian section and Chief Ministerial Adviser of the Ministry of Environment, shares his thoughts on the looks of the Lithuanian pavilion and what will make it stand out among others.

For us, being responsible for Lithuania’s presentation at the world EXPO 2020 in Dubai, this issue of JŪRA MOPE SEA comes out a little early (in fact, just like the previous one). While the last time we did not yet know the number of the project offers we would receive, this time we are yet unsure, which out of the eleven proposals will be picked as the official winner. We will be able to announce the winner only in early June, and in July, when the magazine celebrates its 20th anniversary, the authors of the best project will be already coordinating it with the organisers and preparing the drawings, required for the constructions.

The total number of projects received this time was 12, which is half the amount received before the last world EXPO in Milan. Unfortunately, one of the offers had to be rejected, because its provider could not ensure anonymity. The remaining eleven projects were provided for a public, competent and transparent evaluation with their authors remaining anonymous until the finish line. Some projects were noticed already during the online voting (48 per cent of the votes on Delfi Grynas website went to Land of Ice project, 27 – to Openarium), others – during the exposition of their models at RESTA international constructions exhibition, which took place in Vilnius, others yet – during the public evaluation at the Lithuanian Architects’ Association, where experts of various fields were invited to share their opinions (giving most of their sympathies to Wave, Openarium, Heart of Rain and Land of Ice projects) together with reviewers and, finally, during the intensive discussions among the tender evaluation commission members, who (particularly the architects) saw most of the modern purity in the projects Manifesto and Open Pavilion, although the simple, yet naively sincere Openarium was acknowledged as well.

From traditional folklore to modern innovations, from the use of the simplest of salvaged construction materials and local desert sand to complex wooden constructions, glass and unique reinforced concrete, developed in Lithuania. With a clear message or with none at all. From very simple to rather complex, expensive and even complicated solutions, especially keeping in mind Lithuania’s modest Expo budget, tight preparation schedule and specific UAE climate. Thus, there is truly something to choose from, on the other hand, it is becoming more and more difficult to impress the world with something special.

The preliminary list of projects begins with Openarium (MB Baukas, authors Edita Bružikaitė, Mantas Čekaitis, Mindaugas Bučas), which, according to the architect Deimantas Čekanauskas, is representative, memorable, aesthetic, original and emphasizes the Lithuanian identity highlighting the very peculiar Lithuanian window shutters, which can be used to provide lots of information on the country and its regions. Authentic window shutters are valuable all by themselves, while the material of the pavilion (with predominating wood) fits the exhibition topic, particularly sustainability. This offer is also unique in terms of functionality, featuring probably the best engineering solutions.

Open Pavlion and Manifesto, brought to the top of the list (2nd and 3rd place) during the last evaluation stage, which basically involved the votes of the architects in the evaluation commission, were not among the favourites during the public evaluation. According to experts, who spoke during the public evaluation, Open Pavilion (authors Giedrius Mamavičius, Gabrielė Ubarevičiūtė, Aidas Čergelis and UAB Siena) seems to be very impractical: with outside temperature around +40°C, the temperature inside could rise to +50°C and maintaining +25°C inside (as the Commissioner, I still hope that among other exhibits our pavilion will also feature one or several of Čiurlionis’ originals, which need special microclimate) would require huge energy costs. Another issue, raised by numerous experts (architect Čekanauskas, designer Lašas), was the intention to introduce Lithuanians as nomads. Philosopher and artist Arūnas Gelūnas, Director of the Lithuanian Art Museum, made it very clear that he personally would not like to see Lithuania introduced to the world as a country of nomads. Beata StankevičMengė, board member of the Lithuanian Business Association in Dubai, who has spent quite some time in the United Arab Emirates, said that she did not think it was suitable for Lithuania to introduce its identity through that scope.

Many admired the project Manifesto, preliminary picked as third (submitted by MB Dukart Jot). The project is modern, light and conceptual, although does not define the Lithuanian identity and is closer to the rational Northern aesthetics. Nevertheless, its implementation has been raising the most questions: it may seem that the construction is very simple to assemble from used scaffolding and then disassemble, posing no problems regarding its further use or lack thereof (the experts of the ministry, organising the tender were looking namely for constructions or buildings that are easy to disassemble), the implementation of this project could cause a huge headache in terms of construction, price and use. Despite counter-arguments, the otherness of both Open Pavilion and Manifesto, featuring the purity and conceptuality, noted by the architects, determined their success in the tender and will likely be acknowledged with monetary premiums together with Openarium.

The list of contenders continues with projects Wave, Heart of Rain and Land of Ice, which, although not as ‘other’, could become a perfect representation of our country, being as ambitious and probably costlier, more difficult to build and, perhaps, more difficult to operate. The Wave project (submitted by MB A2X2) features a sculpturesque shape (Čekanauskas) and its plasticity convinces you with its aesthetics (Lašas). This project has multiple meanings (artist Gitenis Umbrasas), which allows the play of shadows and lights (Eglė Kudzmanienė, Chief Advisor of the Brand Lithuania Unit), creating an opportunity to introduce the famous Lithuanian lasers in a way that is not too plain (Lašas). Gelūnas noted that Wave signifies not only a wave of the Baltic Sea, featured in the works of the poet Maironis, ‘rolling wind-driven breakers ashore from the west’, but also the upcoming 700th anniversary of Vilnius (the name originates from Vilnelė river, which comes from the word ‘vilnis’, meaning a hump of water or a wave). Associate professor of Vilnius Academy of Arts (VAA) and marketing expert Nikolay Ambrusevič highlighted Wave project together with Openarium as the most successful, stating that the former is very convenient for the implementation of the theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, introducing innovations and achievements, e.g. in financial technology. However, our identity is important as well and the most suitable project to present it is the Openarium – where the former project conveys ambition, the latter – discusses identity or what we could and have to share both with the UAE and the rest of the world.

THE STORY OF A P1ECE OF TRASH (submitted by a group of VAA students and lecturer Algimantas Mačiulis, PhD) did not go unnoticed as well. The idea to bring the pavilion, built twenty years ago for EXPO 2000 in Hanover, which was admired by critics and fans of the event, and later had never been appropriately used, to Dubai brought both negative emotions and nostalgia. According to Lašas, it would be a conceptual look at the EXPO events overall, but it may be difficult to understand since 20 years have already passed. According to Gelūnas, picking such an offer in the times, when innovation is nearly a religious cult, would be rather brave and make it very easy to slip during its implementation. Čekanauskas said that such a decision would definitely ‘troll’ the organisers of the event (I would say, the Commission as well), but it would be more effective done for the fifth or, at least, third time. People would say things like ‘Hey look, Lithuanians came bringing their yellow house again.’

Heart of Rain – another project from the trio of the luxurious and nice, submitted by UAB Klaipėdos Komprojektas, also won many expert and assessor sympathies: it looks great and the intention to introduce Lithuania through its humid climate, trees and greenery is also very good and admirable. No wonder that this project became the favourite of the Brand Lithuania and the representatives of the community in Dubai also believe it will get into the TOP5. Of course, it is reminiscent of House of Rain (Lithuanian pavilion in Saragosa in 2008), but experts say that one should not shy away from repetitions, when they could prove to be successful. Nevertheless, transplanting the Heart of Rain into the Expo in Dubai, looks difficult due to sand storms, high temperatures, water system maintenance, while the terrace would significantly reduce the interior exposition, etc. Land of Ice (submitted by UAB Unitectus) is an aesthetic, sculpturesque building, which looks beautiful both from the above and its sides – the views that most of the visitors will, unfortunately, see the least. Climate change and the melting ice is as important to Lithuania as the rest of the world, yet, according to the majority of experts, Lithuania is far from a land of ice (although it definitely sounds cool!) and that is the reason why this project was not picked. Moreover, such a pavilion would use lots of energy to produce and store ice, not to mention the expensive construction costs.

In truth, the issue of the further use of the pavilion remains very relevant. According to EXPO rules, at the end of the event all participants must return the organisers an empty plot of land and pavilions are destroyed, recycled or transferred to other locations. There examples are many: After the event in Shanghai the UAE pavilion has been transferred to Abu Dhabi, Azerbaijan and the United Kingdom took their pavilions or the best of their elements from EXPO Milano home (the information centre in Baku and the unique bee-hive construction at the Royal Kew Botanical Garden in London), while Monaco donated its pavilion to the Red Cross of Burkina Faso. It is a pity that the Yellow pavilion has never been brought back from Hanover to Lithuania and used as a symbol of Lithuania’s participation at such events, but its photos are featured in numerous catalogues, albums and the recently-opened World Expo Museum in Shanghai. I would like to wish the same kind of success for the future Lithuanian pavilion in Dubai as well. There is still a long way to go.

Article from magazine JURA