The Mitsui-Toshiba Pavilion at the Aichi Expo
The Toyota Pavilion may be one of the most hyped attractions at the Expo, but if you are not game to brave the mind-numbing queues, why not take a look at the modest grey structure opposite. The Mitsui-Toshiba Pavilion, the combined effort of 51 Japanese companies including the Mitsui Group and Toshiba Corporation, not only houses some cutting-edge entertainment technology, but is itself an environmental model for future building design.
Recently I got behind the scenes with media-relations head Mr. Kenji Nakao from the famous Dentsu PR firm. He took my through the innovative design features and technologies on offer at the pavilion. I then got to experience the movie technology for myself in a starring role! (See below.)
JapanVisitor: What is the role of your pavilion?
Kenji Nakao: This is the first international exposition of the 21st century, and so we have attempted to create a pavilion with content, planning and technology appropriate to such an exposition.
How long did it take to put this pavilion together?
About two-and-a-half to three years from the planning stage.
What do you think are the most interesting points about this pavilion?
The construction of the building and the imaging technology. First of all, the building features the Aqua Wall, which is an arrangement of scaffolding-like louvers over which water spills to create a sensation of coolness. The wall of water creates a temperature difference of three to four degrees Celsius between the inside and outside, which means that visitors to the pavilion can wait beneath it in refreshing conditions. We also aim to reduce interior temperatures further by harnessing the natural air circulation that this temperature difference creates.
Then, this isn't an environmental feature, but the pavilion is covered with a double layer of construction-site safety mesh which in the evenings is illuminated by five colours of halogen lamps, creating a beautiful rainbow effect. We call this the Aurora Wall. And we've used three large pillars at the centre of the building, with the second-floor area suspended from them. So there are no pillars supporting the sides of the structure on the second floor, which gives the impression of its floating in space.
As for imaging technology, the so-called Futurecast System scans visitors' faces and instantaneously converts them into computer graphics. Then every visitor's face is 'attached' to a character, so that they actually appear in the movie. The movie is entitled 'Space Child Adventure Grand Odyssey'. It's the science-fiction story of a human race that once fled the environmentally devastated earth, and is now returning to the restored planet in a starship.
Can you explain the Post-Show?
Tokyo University professor Takafumi Matsui was the chairman of a group that comprises 14 Mitsui Group researchers. They each came up with their visions of the future earth, and these are on display in the Post-Show area. The idea is that every one of the some 6.4 billion inhabitants of earth has their own opinion about the earth, and this exhibit represents the views of 14 of those inhabitants.
What specific environmental measures have been taken in constructing this pavilion?
As I outlined before, we have minimised the use of steel frames in the construction, which has reduced the amount of materials and transportation, and their attendant costs; and the Aqua Wall has reduced the need for air conditioning.
Do the companies like the Mitsui Group and Toshiba involved in this pavilion intend to introduce environmental measures in their companies?
That's a matter for each individual company, but I can say that the companies are trying to take on board the principles of CSR (corporate social responsibility), and the Three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle). The companies involved in this pavilion range from service-industry enterprises to manufacturers, so they each have their own characteristics, but we can say that their participation in this pavilion represents their commitment to environmental efforts.
I take the escalator up to the second floor, the radical nature of the
building construction becomes apparent. Steel tubes replace concrete walls;
metal louvers stand in for windows. The interior is naturally light and
airy. Attendants line up my group of 20 outside the Scanning Room, and
we watch a bilingual pre-show introduction on widescreen monitors. There
is the sense of being herded like sheep - a not uncommon experience
in Japan - but also palpable anticipation as we realise that our likenesses will be up on the movie screen for everyone in our group to see.
In the Scanning Room, we press our faces into oval openings along a large box and wait for the attendant to guide us: Number 3, please stick your face a little further in. Number 5, you're a little too far in. After a few minutes, the data is loaded, and we make our way into a small viewing theatre. The movie starts, and we forget the grand themes as soon as we see our CG doppelgangers. The people around me snort and titter with recognition. Suddenly, there I am, dressed in a bulky spacesuit. My face, serious and slightly glossy, is issuing commands to my fellow 'Guardians' in perfect Japanese, the lips moving under the command of a supercomputer.
But the surprises are not over yet. As the starship Mnemonic approaches the renewed earth, the screen opens out to reveal that we, the viewers, are not alone. And with the help of another technological sleight-of-hand that I shall leave to your imagination, as we watch the final images of the blue-green orb in space, the feeling of camaraderie is unmistakable and real. We recognise our humanity not just in the facsimiles on the screen, but in the living beings around us. This may be the greatest achievement of the Mitsui-Toshiba Pavilion.