Dream or Reality? New World Expo Fears as Giant Roof Takes Shape

Dark shadow now cast over the viability of the world’s largest timber structure post Osaka 2025

Sat 13 Apr 24


The world media and city officials gathered in Osaka last week to gaze in awe at the 60,000-square-metre all-wood Grand Ring Roof nearing completion on the man-made ‘dream island’—the centrepiece of World Expo 2025, which Japan will host in April next year.

When completed, it will be one of the world’s largest wooden structures, with a circumference of 2 km, a height of 20 metres, and an 8-metre walkway, giving visitors a unique vantage point.

But the smiles of those same city elders hid fears that the 2025 World Expo might just be that … a dream.

Ticket sales have begun for the 2025 Osaka Expo. But what exactly are people in for? Footage courtesy of @Live-pn8co.

Questions have been raised over how the building will be used after the Expo, scheduled to run for 184 days from April 13 to October 13 next year. The Ring’s construction cost of nearly US $230 million is considered unacceptably high.

Japan hosted the World Expo 1970, showcasing the technological and manufacturing prowess of a powerhouse economy and opening a window on how to do business in Asia.

The year was 1970, and all eyes were focused on Osaka, Japan. The World Expo was a temporary futuristic city where the world came together to showcase achievements and cutting-edge technologies—footage courtesy of @JapaneseHistory.

But that was half a century ago. With the 2025 event set to open in just over a year, the project has been beset by major construction delays. These delays reflect structural problems like growing labour shortages and overtime restrictions that will plague the world’s fourth-biggest economy for years to come.

Although organisers say the event will take place as planned, looming over this are political and business infighting, ballooning costs — more than US $1.5 billion and counting — and a questioning of its purpose in the modern era that has left citizens scratching their heads.

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With Expo 2025 in Osaka just over a year away, organisers face many issues, including a construction logjam. As of March, work on only 12 of about 50 country pavilions had begun (Image Credit: Yo Inoue Nikkei montage).

According to Japan-based trade platform Nikkei Asia, officials from some 161 participating countries and regions have become increasingly concerned that their pavilions might not be completed in time.

Japan’s construction sector has become chronically short of labour, with many contractors and workers employed elsewhere on large-scale industrial projects such as building Taiwanese chip giant TSMC’s mammoth new plant in Kumamoto, southern Japan.

Late last year, the Japan Expo Association said the total construction cost of the venue would be more than US $1.6 billion, nearly double the estimate when Osaka’s bid to host the event in 2018 beat those from rivals Yekaterinburg in Russia and Baku in Azerbaijan.

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Construction work at the site of Expo 2025 is pictured during a press event in March. (Photo Credit: Kosaku Mimura) 

The media site inspection showed a vast expanse of dusty, cleared land on the 3.9 sq km island. At the end of it was the Grand Roof, the massive ring-shaped wooden structure that would be the symbol of the expo. Construction workers were thin on the ground.

After the Expo, the Grand Roof building is slated to become a resort island hosting Japan’s first casino. This project was initially set to follow the Expo seamlessly but is now expected to be delayed until 2030.

The costs of the Expo are shared by the national government, Osaka prefecture and the city and business communities. City residents will bear the heaviest tax burden – US $125 per person, according to Osaka estimates.

The grand roof is supported by the traditional ‘nuki’ technique of joining horizontal beams and vertical pillars, used for the famed wooden stage at Kiyomizudera temple in Kyoto.

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An aerial view of Osaka Bay shows Yumeshima Island before the start of Expo 2025 construction. After the Expo, the man-made islet will eventually host Japan’s first Casino (Image Credit: Kento Awashima)

Expo organisers say the structure is intended to serve as a symbol of “one sky” and create a “connection” between participating countries.

It is being developed by Son Fujimoto Architects in collaboration with fellow Japanese studios Tohata Architects & Engineers and Azusa Sekke.

Now, after fairs stretching back to 1851 that has given the world monuments from the Eiffel Tower in Paris to the Space Needle in Seattle, government officials and community leaders have grown sceptical that the world still needs such events.

Yet, held every five years, the Expo continues to attract bids from cities like South Korea’s Busan, Rome and Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh, which won the right to stage the 2030 edition.

Earlier this year, the Australian Government revealed designs for the “Australia Pavilion.” Footage courtesy of @Live-pn8co.

And who among us can forget World Expo 88 in Brisbane that attracted more than, 18 million people including staff and VIPs, double the predicted 7.8 million and a turning point in the history of the city.

It remains to be seen what exactly will be presented at Expo 2025. The event, organised by the Japan Association, boasts the thematic slogan ‘Designing Future Society for Our Lives’, and aims to showcase cutting-edge technologies, among them flying cars … and huge timber structures.


  • Jim Bowden

    Jim Bowden, senior editor and co-publisher of Wood Central. Jim brings 50-plus years’ experience in agriculture and timber journalism. Since he founded Australian Timberman in 1977, he has been devoted to the forest industry – with a passion.


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