It’s rainy season in Shanghai, but the drops aren't keeping hordes of Chinese (and others) away from the gargantuan world's fair on its doorstep.  Set on two sides of the Huangpu River, the enormous scale of the venue might seem surreal, except for the fact that this is China, and the masses are crowding in every day.  

 Like many earlier World's Fairs, this one has a tag line:  "Better City, Better Life", with a planning rationale that highlights the reclamation of former riverfront industrial facilities into showcases of contemporary design.  As an example, one of the city's former power plants, complete with smokestack, has been turned into a display and meeting center--uses that will continue after the current bright lights have dimmed.  


Long-term intentions aside, the immediate draw for architects will be the pavilions built by individual countries. While some manage only to tune in the ersatz channel, the most interesting examples serve as showcases of contemporary design, statements of intellectual or artistic moxie for the new century--a sort of affirmation of "we've got it".  In the European section alone, standouts include the British (the amazing, so-called "hedgehog", designed by Thomas Heatherwick), the Spanish (an expressionistic form covered with woven, basket-like elements), and the Danish (a spiral going round, centered on a pool where sits Anderson's Little Mermaid, a pavilion designed by BIG).  The United States, unfortunately, comes up short, with a structure that resembles nothing more than a headquarters in a suburban corporate park, an embarrassing affirmation that "we don't get it."


A word of warning:  if you're planning to attend, expect to wait.  Lines are everywhere and they’re interminable (at the Saudi Arabian pavilion, it might take six hours), because, seemingly, the entire nation of China has turned out to enjoy the sounds and lights.  Estimates are that from 70 to 90 million will have shown up at fair's end.  And take your Belgian pommes frites with a grain of salt.