The Netherlands Pavilion offers a unique interpretation of Expo 2010’s motto “Better city, Better life.” For architect/artist John Körmeling, a better city means a place to take a stroll, see the sights, or just hang out. His design, called “Happy Street,” consists of a 400-meter curved ramp set in a figure 8 and lined with 26 houses. Visitors peer into the houses, which are filled with conceptual art (a big floating rock), technological innovations (a water-treatment installation), and cultural artifacts (a re-creation of the Schröder House with a Rietveld chair). Or they step off the route onto one of the terraces to look at the surrounding pavilions or the central plaza below. This street is happy day or night, when flashing bulbs and a towering neon sign light up the place. The entire fanciful scheme sits on stilt-like columns.
It may sound like an amusement park, but the Netherlands Pavilion is serious urban design. The Shanghai Expo is filled with public spaces that looked good in plan but are now cordoned off with unattractive red ropes. But Körmeling created an outdoor space that gives Expo-goers what they need—an umbrella of buildings that shield them from sun and rain, a communal space for which they don’t have to stand on line or pay money, and plenty of fiberglass sheep to sit on, with or without a Heineken in hand. The Netherlands Pavilion exemplifies a pedestrian-friendly approach as the choice for a better city. This is a good lesson in Shanghai, a once superb pedestrian city that has given its heart to the automobile in recent years.