A chance to think big

Designing the UK pavilion for the next World Expo is a much-coveted task. Emily Pacey checks out the six shortlisted proposals for Shanghai 2010

If designers wrote their own briefs, they might read a bit like this: ‘Designer to have complete creative control of the project, a long lead-time and a world stage for the resultant work. The budget must contain at least eight figures.’ For one of the six finalists hoping to design the British pavilion at the World Expo 2010, this ideal brief is heading their way, with a couple of extra provisos. The work must relate to the theme ‘better cities, better life’, cover 6000m2 and accommodate 50 000 visitors a day over six months.

For those not in the know, the World Expo happens every four years in a host country and is branded ‘The Olympics of commerce, technology and culture’. Expo 2010 takes place in Shanghai on a vast 570ha site on the banks of the Huangpu River. Each participating country – there are likely to be more than 120 – will sponsor its own pavilion housing events and exhibitions which celebrate its culture and achievements.

The six consortia shortlisted to design the UK pavilion are made up of teams of designers, architects and engineers. They are vying to win the prestigious commission by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with a budget of at least £10m drawn from public and private funds.

‘This is a one-off experience in design terms,’ says Event Communications research and marketing director Celestine Phelan, attending the unveiling of the six proposals at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum last Wednesday. ‘Expos are inspirational for designers. The winner will get the glory of exhibiting, possibly gain business, and will be exposed to the most cutting-edge design in the world,’ she says.

‘Many designers spend most of their lives doing very straightforward jobs, and this is a chance for them to really stretch themselves,’ adds Malcolm Reading, director of Malcolm Reading and Associates, the company appointed to run the tender. He warns that the winner must avoid repeating the mistakes of the Millennium Dome. ‘The Dome was not an integrated experience; it lacked cohesion between the structure and its contents. The British pavilion must be one single experience.’

The six works vary in style from amorphous, glowing blobs and cubes, to pods on stilts and sculptural flowing structures. The themes explore sustainability, culture, links between city and country and the individual’s relationship to society.

Imagination worked on a team headed by architect Marks Barfield to create a pavilion of eight tree-like structures representing different facets of culture and industry. ‘We should continue the conversation about Better Cities beyond the end of the expo, so after it finishes we would place each of the eight individual structures in different parts of China,’ explains Imagination’s creative head of brand communication Kenny Holmes.

The multidisciplinary group Heatherwick Studio worked with Casson Mann and others to design a huge, pixelated, cubed screen with an events space beneath it.

Event Communications collaborated with Avery Associates and others, creating an illuminated space based on the idea of garden cities.

The island theme was continued in the Draw Architects-led entry, which was inspired by clouds over an island and described as ‘a re-useable passive building’.

Wordsearch worked with John McAslan & Partners and others to explore sustainable cities, green belts and business in cities. The final proposal, led by Zaha Hadid Architects, consists of a five-chambered space made of lightweight, sustainable low-cost materials.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 is regarded as the first ever World Expo. Newly appointed Minister for Trade Promotion and Investment Digby Jones stood before a portrait of the Great Exhibition committee to inform those gathered at the V&A that he would chair the judging panel for this year’s shortlist.

‘Our job is to go round the world and fight for you [design companies]. We need to communicate to emerging markets that Britain should be the location of choice for them to risk their capital,’ he says. Speaking to Design Week, Lord Jones adds, ‘The creative industry is knowledge-based and populated by small businesses, which means that they need an extra leg-up. They need to be able to shelter under the value-added umbrella of brand Britain.’

The exhibition of shortlisted entries runs at the V&A until 6 September. The winner will be announced on 21 September.


2010 Shanghai World Expo UK entry judging panel
Digby Jones – Chair
John Sorrell – Chair of CABE
Nicholas Grimshaw – Architect
David Adjaye – Architect
Bob White – Chief executive officer of Mace (project manager for the Olympics)


Schedule for the Shanghai World Expo
January 2006 – Open tender launched
March 2006 – Longlist of 47 reduced to six
19 September 2007 – UK pavilion competition winner chosen
21 September 2007 – Winner announced
January 2008 – Pavilion construction begins
July 2008 – Construction completed
1 May 2010 – World Expo opens
31 October 2010 – World Expo closes
The ten pavilions judged to be the best will remain on site as part of Shanghai’s regeneration programme

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