With just a fortnight to go the Milan Expo is still a building site according to designers who say some pavilions may not be finished in time for its opening.
Wolfgang Buttress, who has designed the UK’s beehive-inspired structure said that a number “haven’t a hope” of completing for the 1 May opening.
“Some of them might put the cladding on, but I don’t know what’s going to go on the inside,” he said.
“Some you look at and you think, no, they haven’t a hope in hell. But it’s a theatre, it is about the surface. I’m sure that come May the first a lot of it will look really impressive.”
Oki Sato, of Japanese design studio Nendo who is contributing to the Atsushi Kitagawara-designed Japanese pavilion, also said that the Expo looked unlikely to be ready in time.
“It won’t open for six months, that is how it seems,” he said. “I was saying yesterday ‘I’m not sure if it’s going to open’.”
At the beginning of April, reports in the Italian press suggested that just 9% of pavilions had been completed.
One newspaper quoted a technician as saying it would need “a miracle” for the Italian pavilion to be completed on time.
Expo commissioner Giuseppe Sala – who also became commissioner for the Italian pavilion last year after its former manager was accused of corruption – said that “one or two” of the more than 140 pavilions may not be finished on time, but the site would be “90% ready” for opening day.
The Milan Expo 2015, has the theme of Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. It includes purpose-built showcases from around 140 countries.
“The theme of this year’s Expo is Feeding the Planet, which is fantastic, it’s really laudable,” said Buttress. “But how do you square that with building nearly 150 pavilions, all spending 10-20-30 million plus, which is a lot of money. There is an inherent contradiction and irony in that.”
Herzog was originally invited by Italian architect Stefano Boeri in 2009 to help masterplan the Expo site, but had walked off the project by 2011 along with American designer William McDonough and Briton Ricky Burdett who had also been part of the design team.
Herzog said this was because the organisers were not “powerful or courageous enough” to support their ideas, and had instead reverted to “the same kind of vanity fair that we’ve seen in the past”.
Italy has had four different governments in the seven years since Milan was chosen to follow the 2010 Shanghai Expo and has undergone its most severe economic crisis since World War Two.
But Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said he is counting on the event to help a recovery after the years of recession.
Officials are counting on some 20 million visitors to the six month-long exhibition of products and technologies from around the world. They hope it will bring in $10.75 billion, half of it from foreign visitors.
Already nine million tickets have been sold, a third of them outside Italy.
“Expo will be the litmus test for the great ambitions which Italy has,” Renzi said. “With the Expo, we’ll be able to see what Italy will be in the coming years.”
But several top officials, including the Expo’s former public procurement manager, were arrested last year and the whole event is now under the oversight of the national anti-bribery authority in a bid to ensure transparency.
It is also believed that Italian journalists have now been banned from the Expo site.