With the Spain Pavilion, architect Benedetta Tagliabue of EMBT created drama in architectural form. From a first glimpse of the building’s snakelike, basket-covered form to the climactic view of a 6.5-meter-tall animated sculpture of a baby, she orchestrated a theatrical event for visitors. Tagliabue opened the show with a façade made out of over 8,000 wicker panels woven by craftsmen in Shandong Province. Workers stripped and treated willow stems to produce a range of panel colors, and arranged the colors to form Chinese characters, which bring a tiger-skin pattern to an already fierce façade. The effect of the whole is only slightly marred by the many distracting, if necessary, “No Smoking” signs.
A circular plaza marks the entrance to the building and splits it into a wing of exhibition space and a wing with offices and a tapas restaurant. From the plaza, visitors funnel in, making the entrance not only dramatic but also a bit scary with so many people crowded together. They arrive at a long cavelike tunnel, whose rounded, rough walls are used as giant projection screens. Here, bones hang from the ceiling and a flamenco dancer jumps to life from a supposed slumber on the floor stage. Then visitors move into a high-ceilinged room sliced by five long, thin video screens and enclosed by dark walls finished with what appears to be a cross between lace and lava. Finally the route opens into a bright, open space dominated by the giant baby (created by Spanish director Isabel Coixet) and more wicker panels.
Tagliabue’s essay in architectural theatrics won the prize for the best future project at the 2009 World Architecture Festival and has become an Expo favorite of architects from almost everywhere. It may deserve an Oscar as well.