The Italian Almanac

inside the trade fair

Italian News - March 29

Some of the most circulated facts about Milan's new trade fair complex on the outskirts of the Lombardy capital are the claims that it occupies a total land area of two million square meters, that it is one of the largest infrastructure projects under construction in Europe, that seven times the amount of steel employed to build the Eiffel Tower was used here and that since work began in October 2002, the site canteen has served 2.5 million meals to 1,700 workers, counting both construction crews and professionals (no word on the kilos of pasta boiled). But what must be seen to be fully appreciated is that something this big can also be beautiful.

Moving the exhibition grounds from the heart of Milan to the site of an abandoned oil refinery northwest of the city was dictated by the Fiera's need to expand and become more functional and therefore more competitive in the increasingly lively convention and trade fair market. But when the Fondazione Fiera Milano, a private corporate entity that controls Fiera Milano Spa, commissioned the project, it decided not to sacrifice form for function. It wanted more than just an exhibition center; it wanted architecture.

The new fairgrounds occupy the former Agip oil refinery in Rho-Pero, on the periphery of the capital. The Fondazione Fiera Milano sold off part of the old fairgrounds and listed itself on the stock exchange to raise part of the 750 million pricetag. An equal amount in government money is paying for other projects, including the extension of the Milan subway to the fair, a new train stop on the Milan-Turin line and new highway connections. Construction of all this has been remarkably quick in a country known for projects that can drag on for decades.

The trade fair will be inaugurated with two small shows this April, and gradually more trade fairs will be moved from the crowded old grounds to the new site. But it will only be working at full capacity sometime in 2006.