Powerful pavilions

Friday 07 May 2010

First in a series of features on the sensational structures and outstanding oddities at the Shanghai World Expo 2010

Last Monday saw the official opening of the largest World Expo in history, with 239 pavilions built and hosted by nations from across the globe, showcasing some of the world’s best architectural talent. Much has been made, both on this site and others, of the UK’s ‘Seed Cathedral’ designed by Thomas Heatherwick Studio. However, with 238 other spectacular constructions, it is nonsensical to concentrate on just one, so in the following weeks we will be giving you a lowdown on the other bold and brilliant pavilions hitting the headlines.


The Macau Pavilion is certainly one of the most attention grabbing structures on display, mainly due to its animalistic form. Whilst many other regions have created buildings that reflect their culture or way of life, Macau’s pavilion, designed by international architecture firm Carlos Marreiros, is in the shape of a giant rabbit, whose head, ears and tail are formed of air-filled balloons. Despite the rather bizarre choice of form, the use of symbolism is still employed elsewhere - the rabbit’s ears and tail are dyed red in an effort to match the neighbouring China pavilion, the building is 19.99m tall in reference to ‘the year of the Macau’s return to the motherland’ and the exterior walls are made of reflexive glass which, during daylight hours, reflects an image of the China pavilion, signifying the message ‘China is in our hearts’. Entitled ‘Jade Rabbit, Imperial Lantern’, the theme of the Macau Pavilion is ‘Spirit of cultures, Essence of harmony’, which is expressed using 100 projectors inside the building to create a multimedia experience for the estimated 2,500 daily visitors. Macau’s pavilion is the closest structure to the China Pavilion, which is forecast to receive 50,000 visitors every day throughout the Expo 2010. Christiana Leong, Chief of the Office for Preparation of Macau’s Participation in the Shanghai World Expo, explained that this was a vital constituent to the success and popularity of the Macau Pavilion. She said: “Even those who will be waiting to get into the China pavilion can see Macau, because we have a TV outside screening promotion films about Macau.”


As Shanghai’s twin city, Hamburg is under a lot of pressure to present a magnificent structure for the Expo. In addition to its ties with the host city, Hamburg is the only German city that has been chosen by the Shanghai Expo Committee to take part independently from its country. The city has taken this opportunity to publicise its enthusiastic approach to energy conservation and eco-friendly building design, presenting China’s first certified Passive House. The ‘Hamburg House’ has been constructed using the most modern environmental engineering available, ensuring that the building is airtight, uses geothermal heating and cooling and utilises sunlight as an energy source. Ole von Beust, First Mayor of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, said: “With the Hamburg House we are setting the bar for energy-saving construction in China. We are delighted to present our city as an innovative waterside metropolis with a high quality of life.” Once the exhibition is over, it is thought that the pavilion will be used sustainably as a highly sustainable, permanent office building.


The Danish pavilion has been designed by architecture firm BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) and is very much an interactive experience. BIG’s structure, entitled ‘Welfairytales’, presents an opportunity for visitors to discover what it is like to live in Denmark by including some of Copenhagen’s most well-known features - the city bike, the harbour bath, playground settings, rooftop picnics and a chance to see the original, authentic statue of H. C. Anderson’s Little Mermaid. In order to enhance the visitor experience, over 300 free push-bikes have been provided to allow an opportunity for visitors to view the pavilion via the popular Danish activity of cycling. The basic layout of the pavilion is a traffic loop, a double spiral in the motion of city bikes and pedestrians tied in a knot. Exhibition space is arranged around two parallel facades – internal and external. The external façade is a monolithic structure formed of perforated steel, painted white to reflect the hot Shanghai sun and perforated in a pattern that mirrors the actual structural stresses that the pavilion experiences, making it a 1:1 stress test. A light blue artificial surfacing texture has been applied to areas of the interior, marking out the cycle areas as is the norm in Denmark. As such, the experience can be enjoyed at two paces, a slow pedestrian stroll or an exhilarating high-speed cycle. Founder of BIG, Bjarke Ingels, said: “sustainable designs…have to be more attractive and desirable than the non-sustainable alternative. With the Danish Pavilion we have attempted to consolidate a handful of real experiences of how a sustainable city – such as Copenhagen – can in fact increase the quality of life.” Also working on this project were 2+1 Ideas Agency (exhibition and branding) and Arup (engineering).


The Austrian Pavilion is the product of a collaboration between architecture firms SPAN and Zeytinoglu Architects. It is composed of two levels and is set to stage numerous multi-media performances via projectors onto the walls, ceiling and floor. Entitled ‘Austria – Feel the Harmony’, the pavilion has been designed to reflect ‘the harmonious interaction of city, landscape, nature, urban habitats and urban culture landscapes in a pavilion design that addresses all senses and that is innovative in regard to architecture as well as realisation’. Despite Austria’s chosen sub-theme, ‘Interaction between rural and urban areas’, there is little in the external façade that signifies a connection with the natural world. Ten million porcelain tiles cover the entire structure, gradually fading from red to white. Alluding to the tradition of Chinese porcelain exports to Europe, the CNC-milled polyurethane, synthetic resin coated hexagonal tiles have been digitally generated to create the complex curved structure that is the Austrian Pavilion. The exterior appears as a continuous, smooth and seamless surface, and the sixty million individual joints result in a regular distribution of the building hull’s tension forces. The upper floor of the pavilion acts as an outdoor dining area, with adjacent VIP Lounge, open to Austrian enterprises, regions and organisations for receptions, events, and presentations. This merging of interior and exterior spaces is a product of the ‘Interaction between rural and urban areas’ theme for the Austrian Pavilion.


Miralles Tagliabue EMBT’s woven mesh design for the Spanish Pavilion has already made a big impact on the architectural world, as the dramatic concept scooped the prize for Top Future Project at The World Architecture Festival in 2009. Drawing inspiration from the age-old Spanish tradition of basket weaving, EMBT’s gracefully curving sculpture is an attempt to modernise the country’s native customs. Benedetta Tagliabue said: “It is a very deep and beautiful craftsmanship. It is an ancient skill and a magical world. [The weavers] go through the complete process from harvesting to selling the wicker product”. In terms of materials used, willow (Salix) was chosen for the job due to its flexibility and resilience. The woven stems are moulded onto steel supports in a series of baskets, some open and some closed. As the wicker allows varying degrees of light to permeate the structure, a dappled effect will be cast onto the courtyards, circulation and multipurpose spaces. One of the most popular and indeed most visually striking of the pavilions at the World Expo, the structure has cost the Spanish government a total of €18m and covers a vast area of 8,500 sq m.


‘Balancity’ is a new term, coined specifically to explain the theme presented by the German Pavilion for the Shanghai World Expo and meaning ‘a city in balance’. On the biggest possible building plot available to a single nation (6,000 sq m), the angular, three dimensional walk-through sculpture designed by architects Schmidhuber + Kaindl, provides four individual exhibition spaces which ‘symbolise the interplay between the forces involved when loads are carried and applied, leant and supported’. A variety of walkways have been installed inside the outer shell of the pavilion, guiding visitors through the exhibitions via bridges, escalators and moving walkways. These pedestrian streams will lead through a variety of thematic urban spaces, including a harbour, a park, a town planning office and a power plant. The main aim of Balancity is to ‘provide inspiration on how quality of life and diversity in cities can be enhanced by ensuring that the elements of which they are composed interact in harmony’. The roof of the pavilion is made up from elements of the exhibition structures, providing the visitors with both shade and protection from adverse weather conditions.

Saudi Arabia

Despite its highly distinctive ‘moon boat’ shape, the Saudi Pavilion stands out from its neighbours by expressing a close relationship with Chinese culture. Throughout the pavilion, there is a concentration on natural elements, with a wide variety of plant-life incorporated into the design. On the first floor of the pavilion, these two elements are combined, as a beautifully crafted garden is displayed, featuring trees from both China and Saudi Arabia in an effort to symbolise the friendship between the two nations. This relationship is further strengthened by the fact that the pavilion itself was designed by local Chinese architect Wang Zhenjun, after he won a competition for the project with his strong proposal. On the roof of the structure are 150 date palms, native to Saudi Arabia, which were initially transplanted to Zhejiang Province before being replanted on top of the pavilion. In stark contrast to this natural element, the interior hosts the world’s largest cinema screen, measuring a colossal 1,600 sq m in a 3D IMAX theatre. A rich Arabic geometric latticework covers the areas of the walls and fountains in the interior. Dubbed ‘The Arabian City’, the theme of the pavilion is ‘Vitality for life’, arguably well captured in the inclusion of opposing elements – the natural and the man-made – showcasing the vitality of a vibrant city life in the midst of a severe natural environment. The interior exhibition is split into four sections in order to portray this; the City of Energy, the City of Oasis, the Ancient City with Rich Cultural Heritage and the City of Fast-Growing Economy.

This is just a small selection of the 239 outstanding pavilions at the Shanghai World Expo 2010. The exhibition is due to continue until 31st October 2010 so keep checking back for more updates, news and reviews of the incredible architecture on display.

Sian Disson
Editorial Assistant

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