After a second day of visiting the Shanghai Expo 2010 site, (first time in the pouring rain, second time in the searing heat), this much is clear: somehow we've missed the message in the West. China's heroic efforts perhaps exceed those of the Beijing Olympics, with five gargantuan permanent structures, new subway lines, and a reclaimed riverfront, factories turned into exhibition halls, and on and on.
On Thursday, the final day of our McGraw-Hill seminar on Urban Visions, we got private tours of several of the best pavilions, and they're worth a trip: Britain and Spain. Heatherwick's "Seed Cathedral" actually has a serious program--showcasing the seed bank kept by Kew Gardens--but in the most extraordinary way. From the exterior, the glistening rods surrounding the structure sway in any breeze (and pray for a breeze) ever so slightly. The interior acts like a sacred repository, in this case, of the world's genetic material, and it glows from the rods capturing exterior light. At night, the lighting effects are reversed. This project achieves a kind of brilliance and never fails to elicit a shock of delight from the visitor.
Likewise the EMBT designed Spanish extravaganza. Who could approach this mini-Bilbao in wicker and not express a sense of wonder and delight? The architects and their engineers took three years to design and construct a sculptural steel framework that rolls and shifts, covered in Chinese wickerwork boiled to produce varying coloration. The whole project catches and diffuses the light and draws us inward and through. For the visitor, a pathway on a single level proceeds from the soaring atrium at the entry into a cavern-like passage, to the electronic displays. Furnishing, details--all point to mastery and creativity. Go and wonder at the architecture, and gawk at what China can do.