The U.S. Pavilion's smart-glass roof canopy under construction at the 2015 Milan Expo site in Italy.
Friends of the U.S. Pavilion Milano 2015 The U.S. Pavilion's smart-glass roof canopy under construction at the 2015 Milan Expo site in Italy.


From the Ferris wheel to more futuristic forms, international expositions have long pushed boundaries in design and engineering. That will again be the case when the 2015 Expo Milano opens in May and 147 countries worldwide will share culture through construction in the form of innovative pavilions and installations. Representatives from the U.S. Pavilion—which is titled American Food 2.0 and aims to discuss the country’s role in the global food supply chain—recently shared a behind-the-scenes look at one of the exhibition's innovative architectural features: a smart-glass roof canopy.

The application seeks to align with the expo’s broader theme—“Feed the Planet, Energy for Life”—by functioning as a digital interface that encourages visitor interaction. The pavilion will be topped with a canopy comprising 312 glass panels, each measuring 3.3 feet by 9.8 feet, for an installation totaling roughly 10,000 square feet in area. The nonprofit representing the pavilion, Friends of the U.S. Pavilion Milano 2015, says that this application will be the largest smart-glass roof structure to date. The glass canopy will shield a rooftop terrace. 

The panels, Smart Glass ChromaLite manufactured by Italian firm Isoclima under license from Woodbury, N.Y.–based Research Frontiers, will transition in seconds (according to a statement from the project team) from opaque to transparent states in response to environmental conditions as well as prompts from visitors via a touchscreen. Following the exhibition’s close, Isoclima will reuse the entire installation in other projects.

Smart-glass panels installed.
Friends of the U.S. Pavilion Milano 2015 Smart-glass panels installed.


According to the pavilion’s designer James Biber, FAIA, of Biber Architects in New York, the digital roof canopy relies on “treating the glass panels as an array of very large pixels and programming images, patterns, words, and reactive motion onto what would otherwise have been a simple glass canopy," he said in a press release.

Beyond the glass roof, the pavilion will also include a 7,000-square-foot motorized, hydroponic vertical farm and a promenade fabricated from materials salvaged from the Coney Island boardwalk, in New York. Unlike its predecessors, this year’s pavilion relies on a combination of self-guided experiences in addition to a conventional exhibit space. Its industrial, barn-style form constructed from sustainable elements aims to re-consider the country’s approach to food production by harkening to its past.

And yes, there will be food trucks.

A sketch of the pavilion's exterior.
Biber Architects A sketch of the pavilion's exterior.


A rendering of the pavilion's exterior.
Biber Architects A rendering of the pavilion's exterior.


A rendering of the finished pavilion.
Biber Architects A rendering of the finished pavilion.


A rendering of the rooftop terrace.
Biber Architects A rendering of the rooftop terrace.


See more images of the USA Pavilion in ARCHITECT's Project Gallery.