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Planting future ideas in the UK's Cathedral of Seeds Read

2009. 12 October

by Yang Jian
( The United Kingdom is called "the home of the World Expo" because more than 150 years ago the first Expo, then known as the Great Exhibition, was held in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park.
That extravaganza displayed industry and products from around the world and kicked off the Expos that for many years were the "Olympics of science and economy." The UK Pavilion has always been a highlight at Expos.

The Crystal Palace, the majestic metal-and-glass edifice that symbolized the world's fair, was considered one of the iconic structures in the world - until it was destroyed by fire half a century ago.

At next year's Shanghai Expo, the United Kingdom will present a different kind of palace, but one that also shimmers with light and ideas illustrating the Expo theme "Better City, Better Life."

The six-month Expo opens on May 1.

The UK Pavilion for the Shanghai Expo is one of the most brilliant and challenging pavilions on the 5.3-square-kilometer Expo site. It is also the one with the most ordinary basic shape, a cube, but one that glitters.
To attract more visitors, the pavilion design has been modified many times and is still changing. Early last month, Thomas Heatherwick, the pavilion designer, arrived in Shanghai and unveiled the "final" design.

The pavilion is a huge, 20-meter-high "light box" with 60,000 crystalline spines projecting into the air. The spines sway in the breeze and are tipped with tiny, colored lights.

The exhibits aside, the pavilion itself is a major exhibit.

It is simply named "A Pavilion of Ideas" and is also known as the "Seed Cathedral" because each of the 60,000 spines will contain seeds of 24,000 plant species to be collected in a biodiversity project. They will be planted later.

The 6,000-square-meter structure is among the largest pavilions but it appears very light, without heavy concrete foundations and seems to touch the ground lightly.

The area around the "cathedral" is designed to look like wrapping paper, signifying a gift of friendship to China.

The thousands of spines will be made from an acrylic fiber, which makes the shimmering effect easier on the eyes.

The original pavilion design might have been too bright and could have overwhelmed visitors, according to Rt Hon Ian McCartney, UK's Expo commissioner general. The country will listen to opinions and continue to improve the pavilion design to make it a favorite for the Chinese, McCartney says.

"The UK at Expo is about showcasing the strength of the UK-China partnership," says UK's Expo Deputy Commissioner General Carma Elliot. "It's important to continue our collaboration on vital global topics such as biodiversity and climate change."

During the day, each light rod will draw on the sun to light the interior while at night, lights inside each rod will illuminate the structure.

"The 'Seed Cathedral' captures everything that represents UK innovation, creativity, advanced technology, partnerships - and nature," says designer Heatherwick.

The seeds come from all over the world, with many varieties from China, and were collected by the UK Millennium Seed Bank Project, according to Heatherwick.

"Seeds in the rods are just like dinosaurs trapped in amber," he says. "We can protect the future of mankind and the environment by harnessing the power of nature through seeds."
The idea promotes the Millennium Seed Bank Project, an international conservation project launched by the Royal Botanic Gardens in 2000. It aims to ensure against the extinction of plants in the wild by storing seeds for future use. Lack of biodiversity because of human development and climate change is a problem worldwide.
The project aims to collect seeds from 24,000 species of plants by 2010.

In 2010, the 6,000-square-meter UK Pavilion will be smaller than the fabled 70,000-square-meter Crystal Palace, but as large as the Shanghai Grand Theater.

The UK expects around 9.2 million visitors.