UK aims to inspire with different pavilion: deputy director

08:47, May 10, 2010      

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A two-hour queue out in the sun is not pleasant, but long lines of visitors think it is a price worth paying to get a closer look at the "Seed Cathedral" at the UK Pavilion in the Shanghai Expo.

"In a crowded landscape, only the incredible will leave an impression," said David Martin, deputy director of the UK Pavilion at the Expo.

To present visitors a modern and dynamic Britain instead of an old-fashioned one, the designers came up with a striking, futuristic design which they hoped would challenge stereotypes about Britain.

Nicknamed "The Dandelion," the pavilion is dotted with 60,000 transparent rods that cover the entire structure and stick out like the seeds on a common weed.

The rods, each 7.5-meters long, act like a fibre optic cable, drawing light into the building during the day and glowing softly at night.

Each of the slender spikes contains seeds from China's Kunming Institute of Botany. Together they represent the work done by scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens in London to create a seed bank to store all the world's plant species.

However, the bold attempt has disappointed the visitors who expected to feast their eyes on a kaleidoscope of cutting-edge technology and national treasures.

The 189 participating countries all endeavored to present the best they could offer, like the Czech Republic's lucky bronze plaque, New Zealand's 1.8-tonne pounamu (jade) boulder, Turkey's 8,500-year-old sculpture, and Mexico's Mayan pillars.

"I have queued for more than two hours only to find nothing but seeds, plants and open space. I thought there would be some exhibits reflecting British technology and the country's long history," said Shen Peng, a 50-year-old man from Shanghai.

Martin was not surprised.

"I guess our pavilion might be a little different from others, maybe a bit beyond people's expectations. But, we have done that on purpose, because we want to show something different and something special.

"We are proud of our legacy and where we come from, but we want people to change a little bit, think a little bit and say 'Gosh! I thought the UK wasn't like this'," he said.

Rather than produce a museum-like atmosphere, the UK Pavilion wanted to create a special feeling and an open park atmosphere for people.

"And that's really the difference and what we are trying to do," he said. ' In the wide open space around the "Seed Cathedral," people can stay as long as they want, seeing their children rolling down the hill, watching performances of distinctly British style, or even enjoy the lunch they brought in.

"It is that feeling we really want to have. I think the UK Pavilion is one of the pavilions that most closely follow the theme of 'Better City, Better Life'," Martin added.

It is the open urban park that is knitted into the whole message.

"That's very much about welcoming nature into cities," he said.

"We've really embraced the theme because the UK during the industrial revolution in the 1800s had a massive build-up of cities, and we had to look at the planning and structures to make city livable for people."

Martin said the UK was taking that part of their history and showing it as something from the past.

"And this is probably a good idea for any other city or country that urbanizes rapidly, which China is."

As for the visitors' disappointment about the absence of high-tech exhibits, Martin said the UK believes the next wave of technology will be linked to nature, bio-diversity and mankind's relationship with nature.

"I think the 'Seed Cathedral' represents where science and technology is going and we are looking far into the future," he said.

Outside the "Cathedral" is the "Living City" where a multitude of live and imaginary plants smack of science fiction.

Among the oddest is a purple-colored cabbage-shaped plant with dots of metal embedded in its leaves. Another is in the form of a group of white threads hanging from the ceiling and said to be able to identify anybody that has touched it.

"I want people to come and say 'Wow! This is really different!' and for them to think the UK is a creative and innovative place which also knows how to plan a city," Martin said.

Source: Xinhua
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