Switzerland hoists sail at World Expo

Fire hydrants guide visitors to the Swiss pavilion

Playful, innovative, thought provoking and free of clichés – that is how Switzerland is portraying itself at the Saragossa World Exhibition in Spain.

This content was published on June 27, 2008 - 18:01

Friday is Swiss day at the exhibition. President Pascal Couchepin is visiting, with a delegation made up of representatives of politics, diplomacy and business.

In his opening speech, Couchepin underlined the importance of water as a vital resource. Water and sustainability are the themes of the Expo.

Visitors enter the site across a pedestrian bridge designed by renowned Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid. The steel-clad structure, which also houses an exhibition, is said to have been inspired by shark scales.

More than 100 countries are represented in Saragossa. Where many nations are using the exhibition as a colourful opportunity to promote their tourism and economic assets, Switzerland's quieter presentation comes as a pleasant contrast.

The interior of the Swiss pavilion is unlit. A sail is suspended from the ceiling. A video show projected on it creates the impression of flowing water. Instead of music, the sound visitors hear is of water pouring onto the sail, rain beating on blinds, water trickling into a basin.

Switzerland is proud of its technology. The temperature inside the pavilion is regulated not by conventional air conditioning, but exploits the available elements of air and water. It uses the principle of cooling by evaporation, while two ventilators are responsible for the exchange of air.

Technology, a responsible approach to water, and the ways water circulates are all themes in the interactive wall of the bar. Texts and photos explain water management in Switzerland: cutting down on fertiliser, a ban on phosphates, the use of reservoirs, hydro-electric power stations, sewage plants, monitoring systems.

Expectations exceeded

"Lots of Spain-based Swiss clubs have been visiting our pavilion," Clelia Kanai of Presence Switzerland, the country's official public relations agency, told swissinfo.

"The number of visitors has exceeded our expectations. So far we've been having up to 8,000 a day, when we were expecting 4,000," she said.

"Courageous and innovative" are two adjectives used by a German couple after a walk through the Swiss pavilion. They had been expecting "chocolate and folklore".

"It will challenge the average Expo visitor," they said.

Couchepin arrived from Madrid by high-speed train, which takes less than 90 minutes to cover the 320 kilometres. The new station in Saragossa was built especially for the exhibition, and looks somewhat lonely.

But the presence of huge construction sites around the city makes it clear that the building isn't over yet.

The whole of the Saragossa region is counting on a huge economic boost as a result of the exhibition – as Barcelona benefitted from the 1992 Olympic Games and Valencia from sailing's America's Cup last year.

The country has invested €1.5 billion in infrastructure as well as €700 million for the exhibition itself.

swissinfo, based on an article in German by Andreas Keiser in Saragossa

Saragossa World Exhibition

The World Exhibition runs until September 14 in the north Spanish city of Saragossa. More than 100 countries are represented.

The 250,000 square metre exhibition site is located in a loop in the River Ebro.

The organisers expect around six million visitors.

There are plans to convert the grounds into a business park after the exhibition closes.

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Swiss-Spanish relations

Spain is one of Switzerland's ten most important trading partners, with Swiss exports valued at SFr7 billion. Switzerland imports goods from Spain worth SFr4 billion.

Around 23,000 Swiss reside in Spain, while about 70,000 Spanish nationals live in Switzerland.

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