Beyond the merits or demerits of designing national pavilions, the Universal Exhibition of Seville represented the consolidation of a new form of architecture which would gain relevance in the decades that followed: so-called bioclimatic architecture, based on natural climate processes to obtain comfortable conditions. The architecture of Expo, which commemorated the colonisation of the Americas, foreshadowed current theories on the relationship between extractive process on that continent and the development of climate change.
It is not possible to focus attention on the historical nature of today’s climate change without referring to the extraction of resources that began during the colonisation of Latin America. By 1992, the manifesto in convening the Desenmascaremos el 92 (Let’s Unmask ’92) platform, made up of numerous environmental groups, had called out and condemned the “unprecedented environmental devastation” originating from the application of the global capitalist production model, the beginnings of which activists situated in the early years of the Conquest of the Americas. This critique sharpened with the deterioration caused by some of the major territorial operations carried out for Expo ’92, particularly the new high-speed train route linking Madrid and Seville.
One of the biggest architectural challenges in building the La Cartuja facility was to moderate the effects of Seville’s blazing heat for future visitors. Some of the urbanist plans presented in 1986 to re-arrange the space on the island reverted to colonial imagery to justify large climate conditioning operations in the facilities, with designs drawing from Pre-Columbian inspiration and masses of water which sought to emulate the Atlantic Ocean. In 1987, so as to ensure bioclimatic comfort in the common areas and spaces of transit, the Expo ’92 State Company commissioned the Bioclimatic Architecture Seminar from Seville’s Higher Technical School of Architecture, directed by architect Jaime López de Asiain, to develop a pilot programme to research the implementation of cooling systems in the open spaces of the facility via mechanisms used to provide shade through pergolas, the use of water micronizers (for instance the Bioclimatic Sphere) and cooling towers (in Avenida de Europa and El Palenque), as well as the widespread use of vegetation. To landscape the site, plants of American origins were sent from different countries.
This extractivist logic and its link to climate was also conspicuous in the Chilean Pavilion, where a 200-ton iceberg from Antarctica was installed after being transported from Paradise Harbour and which, in the words of Sebastián Vidal Valenzuela, “acted symbolically as a freezing device of political memory to benefit commercial relations globally”. The operation, associating cold with development, looked to present Chile as a “cold and efficient” country, rather than the “nebula of the Third World” within which the Latin American tropical territories would be situated.