The Most Conceptual Pavilion

by United Blogs of Benetton on: 六月 8th, 2010

Shanghai Expo 2010Some pavilions showcase their country as a tourist destination, some show off fine products for Chinese consumers to covet, while others present smiling portraits of their citizens extending a hand of friendship. The United Kingdom decided on an entirely conceptual approach that had little relationship to any ideas or images of the island nation that expo visitors might have held before.

The British Pavilion, designed by Heatherwick Studio led by the internationally acclaimed Thomas Heatherwick, made succinct points about humanity and our environment rather than delivering a public relations or marketing message.
Two key concepts are imparted: biodiversity and public space.

The main structure, the Seed Cathedral, is formed from 60,000 transparent 7.5 meter long fiber optic rods, each encasing one or more seeds at its tip. During the day, they draw daylight inwards to illuminate the interior. At night, light sources inside each rod allow the whole structure to glow. As the wind moves past, the building and its optic hairs gently move to create a dynamic effect.
The project is more English than it might seem. London is among the world’s greenest megacities and city has the world’s first major botanical institution, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, itself part of Heatherwick’s inspiration for the Seed Cathedral. The Kew Gardens’ Millennium Seedbank seeks to collect the seeds of 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020. The seeds used in the Cathedral were sourced from China’s Kunming Institute of Botany, a partner in Kew Royal Botanic Gardens’ Millennium Seed Bank Project.
The pavilion also makes an environmental point with its construction. To reduce unnecessary transportation, 75% of the materials for the UK Pavilion have been sourced from within a radius of 300km around Shanghai. Most of the materials of the UK Pavilion will be reused or recycled at the end of the Expo.

Interestingly, the lasting memory the pavilion leaves might be of the public space it provided. The large open space around the Seed Cathedral – nick-named The Dandelion by the Chinese public – gives visitors a place to relax, chat, and take a break from the maddening crowds of the Expo. When one thinks of all the parks in London, this seems very appropriate.

The result of this conceptual pavilion may be that visitors leave with new viewpoints on the United Kingdom, urbanism, and the environment. While other pavilions cement existing stereotypes, positive or not, this pavilion shows a country that – far from being traditional and uptight as many Chinese imagine it to be – is forward thinking and imaginative. The UK appears as a country eager to raise awareness about and confront the challenges facing society and our ecosystem.

Naturally, the appearance of the Seed Cathedral is probably the most memorable and revolutionary of all the pavilions. The goal set by the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) of creating one of the five biggest attractions of the Expo has been met, if coverage in the Chinese media and the number of magazine covers the pavilion graces is any barometer. All of this bodes quite well for London as it sets the stage for impressing the world in 2012. The empire may have passed, the economy may be weakened, but the country still seems filled with vitality.

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 The African Stereotype

by United Blogs of Benetton on: 五月 31st, 2010

Plenty of countries should have come up with more creative presentations for the Shanghai Expo. Rich countries like the US and France are notable examples of a failure to produce ideas that would truly capture the imaginations of Chinese audiences and improve national brands. The notion of the Expo might seem a bit quaint for many in the West, but it is very real when one considers the millions of visitors coming through who hail from the world’s fastest growing market.

Africa obviously has far less to work with in terms of financial resources and corporate backing. Still, such an occasion would have been a great chance to change and upgrade perceptions of the image of the continent and its individual countries. The Africa Pavilion contained nearly 50 countries and was the largest single pavilion in terms of size.

There were some thumping performances and countless knick-knacks for sale, but one was left with the impression of a continent that is not on the move. This I suspect is far from being the case. There must be countless creative activities happening in the fields of art, design, music, and even architecture in Africa, but the pavilion gave us the notion of a continent that remain one large animal reserve.

Almost every display reinforced the stereotypical notion of a continent filled with large game and primitive people. Perhaps this is the only way that Africa can sell itself to Chinese tourists and perhaps tourism remains the main way in which the continent can gain foreign currency outside of natural resources.

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 Italy Steals the Expo

by United Blogs of Benetton on: 五月 28th, 2010

Maybe it should not be a surprise that is the best Italy might be the only developed country that has attractive but very concrete stuff to offer. Italy makes beautiful things, while the other rich countries make beautiful (or highly sellable) ideas and services. The message is simple: we do design, fashion, cars, food, wine, and all sorts of other things that make your life more pleasing. Due to the presence of so many fashion brands, most Chinese already have an inkling that Italy represents these things, so it is not a terribly hard sell.

At the same time, as a Westerner, I wouldn’t have expected Italy to be the country that most effectively organized for the Expo. But they really pulled together an excellent presentation in terms of organization and infrastructure – the contrast with the dismal and ineffective US and French is notable. Though other pavilions may boast creative exteriors and interesting concepts, none sells its country as a tourist destination and producer of excellent products and brands as effectively as Italy. The Pavilion also triumphs in effectively tying together the heritage of the country with its contemporary creativity and vitality.
Anhiuers and Sichuanese leave with images of the Renaissance, Ferrari, high-heels, Prosecco, and sleek chairs and the thought that it all goes together well.

Credit goes to Italian brands for sponsorship and to the government for appreciating the importance of the Expo as an opportunity to showcase what their country has to offer in the world’s most important market. Italy’s economy may have underperformed for years, but Chinese visiting the Italy Pavilion might be forgiven for assuming that Italy is the most advanced, glamorous, and interesting country in the world. Impressions might even reflect reality.

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