USA Pavilion

A rendering of the USA Pavilion designed by Trahan Architects of New Orleans for the Expo 2025 in Japan.

Architect Victor “Trey” Trahan, III was in his early 20s when the Louisiana World Exposition opened in New Orleans in 1984. And, like a lot of young people at the time, he has fond memories of the fair, which was a financial disaster for investors but delighted locals with its Wonderwall, German beer garden, Treasures of the Vatican exhibit and river-spanning gondola.

Trey Trahan

Victor "Trey" Trahan III of Trahan Architects

Forty years later, Trahan is playing a very different role in the World’s Fair that opens in Osaka, Japan, next year: His New Orleans-based firm, Trahan Architects, is designing the USA Pavilion, one of the prominent architectural attractions of the exposition.

It’s an impressive feather in the cap of the 30-year-old firm, which is based in New Orleans and also has a New York office. More than 28 million people are expected to visit Expo 2025 during its six-month run from April to October, and the eyes of architectural world will be focused on the various country pavilions and firms that designed them.

“It’s very significant,” said Trahan. “More than 130 countries are represented at the Expo and each country works to hire the best architects in their country because you obviously want your pavilion to represent your country in its finest, most beautiful way.”

Trahan Architects was tapped to design the USA Pavilion by the U.S. State Department after a monthslong search process. Construction got underway earlier this year. For Trahan, the timing was ideal, as the firm was wrapping up its work on the $500 million renovation of the Caesars Superdome, which it designed in 2018.

USA Pavilion

A rendering of the USA Pavilion designed by Trahan Architects of New Orleans for the Expo 2025 in Osaka, Japan.

“There were similarities that I think helped us,” Trahan said. “Complex ownership groups and lots of different stakeholders. We were able to negotiate all of that.”

'Quiet but dignified'

The USA Pavilion will be a minimalist-style structure consisting of two triangular buildings with a large plaza, or elongated courtyard, between them. Giant LED screens showing images of iconic American landscapes will frame the two sides of the courtyard. An illuminated translucent cube will hang in the center, bridging the wings of the two buildings and creating a "canyon" effect that Trahan hopes will be inviting and welcoming for people from around the world.

USA Pavilion

A rendering of the USA Pavilion designed by New Orleans-based Trahan Architects for the Expo 2025 in Osaka, Japan.

The outdoor space will also feature a landscaped garden with native American plants, an open-air cafe, and a stage where dancers, musicians, artists, speakers and chefs from around the country can showcase American culture.

Inside, the pavilion will have immersive exhibits of urban and natural locations and outer space.

Though it’s not immediately apparent in the design, Trahan said the pavilion is inspired by his native south Louisiana.

USA Pavilion

A rendering of the interior of the USA Pavilion designed by New Orleans-based Trahan Architects for Expo 2025 in Osaka, Japan.

“We wanted to design a building that was very quiet but dignified, not about the individual but the collective community,” he said. “That feels to me very much like the authentic, unique culture of Louisiana.”

Trahan said he sketched out the high-level vision for the pavilion and then turned it over to his team of about 15 architects in the two offices to finalize the details. In the months since, he has been to Osaka once and is planning a return trip in August.

"It's been really collaborative and a lot of fun," he said.

Changing times

World’s Fairs have been around since the mid-1800s, and for decades were seen as opportunities to showcase the latest in technology, like the electricity that was used to light the 1893 Worlds’ Fair in Chicago, as well as cutting-edge architecture, like the Eiffel Tower from the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris.

But in the later years of the 20th?century, costs grew and vacationers didn't need to travel around the world to see new developments they could learn about on the internet or, more recently, on their smartphones. The last World Expo held in the U.S. was the 1984 New Orleans World’s Fair, which went down in infamy because of its cost overruns and poor attendance. But the Expo played a key role in catalyzing redevelopment of the Warehouse District and what is now the Riverwalk and Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

USA Pavilion

A rendering of the USA Pavilion for Expo 2025 in Osaka, Japan, designed by Trahan Architects.

Today, World Expos, as they are officially known, are overseen by the Bureau International des Expositions?and are held every five years. They still draw large crowds from outside the U.S.

Expo 2020, which was pushed back to late 2021 and early 2022 because of the pandemic, was held in Dubai and attracted more than 27 million visitors.

Sustainable building

While architects often think of the legacy they are leaving when they design an important building, there is an irony to designing a pavilion for a World Expo. It’s not designed to last and will be dismantled after six months.

The Eiffel Tower still stands. So does the Seattle Space Needle, built for the 1962 World's Fair. There are a handful of other examples, including the Riverwalk in New Orleans, but not many.

USA Pavilion

A rendering of the USA Pavilion designed by Trahan Architects of New Orleans for Expo 2025 in Osaka, Japan.

The USA Pavilion that Trahan designed pays homage to sustainable building practices. To that end, it is being constructed from recycled materials like reused steel, tensile fabric and pieces from disassembled structures from the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. After the Expo is over, those materials will be stored so they can be reused in the future.

“In that way, it can live on,” said Trahan.

Email Stephanie Riegel at stephanie.riegel@theadvocate.com.

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