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Expo Architecture: A Rendezvous of Cultures
2010. 29 April
In a former shipbuilding yard on Shanghai's Huangpu River, an array of exotic, wild and exquisite buildings are opening to millions of visitors from around the world.
"These dream spaces could be a perfect place to shoot wedding pictures," said Yao Hongmei, a visitor to the preview of the Shanghai World Expo.
The 27-year-old interpreter with the Shanghai International Studies University posed among the crowds in front of the "wild" African pavilion.
The Shanghai World Expo, which will run from May 1 to Oct. 31, is expected to attract 70 million visitors from around the world.
Visitors can see the Nepal Pavilion with its replica of an Aniko-style Buddhist pagoda in Kathmandu and the Portugal Pavilion with its walls of cork, a Portugal-sourced, recyclable and environment friendly material.
The word "dream" is frequently used in descriptions of the site.
"The Expo pavilions offered us an opportunity to get a taste of the urban dreams of different cultures," said Mira Green, from the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom's stunning 25-million-pound dandelion-like pavilion and the crown-shaped China Pavilion, nicknamed the "big stove," are among the most popular buildings.
The 20-meter-high UK pavilion is covered by more than 60,000 transparent acrylic filaments, each holding a seed from Kew Garden's Millennium Seed Bank - a worldwide project to preserve a quarter of the world's plant species - and quivering in the breeze.
"Nothing has more potential than seeds," said designer Thomas Heatherwick, who hoped to convey a new image of the UK to the world, especially the Chinese, that breaks the conventional concept of "a gentleman with hat, stick and cigar."
"The Expo pavilions are like an architectural fashion show," said Expo theme consultant Xia Jun.
"The buildings are like the clothes. They might not be copied directly in daily life, but they showcase different ideas, creativity, and people's aspirations for the future. And these might inspire other architects."
It's easy to spot China's cultural imprint in other nations' pavilions.
Based on the idea of creating a green space within the Expo, the Mexico pavilion features a sea of more than 130 kites, or papalotes, a Nahuatl word which means "kite" and also "butterfly," on a vast green slope.
"The kite originated in China and it's a traditional toy in Mexico. The design was used as a cultural meeting point between Mexican and Chinese cultures," said Edgar Ramirez, designer of the Mexico Pavilion.
North of the China Pavilion lies the seashell-shaped Israel Pavilion, composed of two streamlined buildings "hugging" each other. One building is made of real stone while the other is made of transparent glass.
"The design reflects the ancient oriental wisdom of dialogue and fusion between opposite elements," said Wu Zhiqiang, chief designer of the Shanghai World Expo park.
The grandfather of chief Israel pavilion designer Haim Z. Dotan once lived in China and his mother was born in Shanghai in 1910.
"Perhaps Dotan's family connection with China helped him to incorporate the philosophy into his works," said Wu, also head of the Shanghai-based Tongji University's architecture and urban planning school.
"When you know the story behind the buildings, you no longer fix your eyes only on the halls, but the designers' understanding of world and Chinese culture," he said.