Using cultural clichés in architecture rarely results in good design. But Bjarke Ingels found a way of incorporating Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, water from Copenhagen’s harbor, and Denmark’s ubiquitous bicycles into his nation’s pavilion while making it smart and fun, not dumb and silly. Designed as a double spiral with ramps for pedestrians and bicyclists that crosss at two places, the pavilion offers both a slow and a fast route through its exhibitions. Visitors can start their experience by going to a roof garden for a picnic, then take one of 300 bikes for a quick ride downhill. A special light blue material often used in Denmark for bicycle paths covers the roof and the bike route, while white painted steel perforated with holes of different sizes wraps around the building. Because the white steel reflects solar rays, it helps keep the building cool. At the base of the pavilion, sitting in a pool of water shipped over from Copenhagen harbor, the Little Mermaid sculpture normally found in Copenhagen now attracts the attention of Expo visitors. In a witty trade, a multimedia artwork by Ai Weiwei resides in Copenhagen while the mermaid vacations in Shanghai.
With its overlapping loops and usable outdoor spaces, BIG’s design for the Denmark Pavilion does a good job of blending outside and in. It also sends a strong message about the role of bicycle transportation in a major metropolis, reminding planners in Shanghai that they should once again find a place for the humble bicycle in the city’s mix of transit options. BIG’s vocabulary of powerful, abstract forms levened with a touch of humor helps make the Denmark Pavilion an attractive messenger.