Seed Cathedral for the UK Shanghai Pavilion by Heatherwick studio

published in: Architecture By Marcia Argyriades, 06 April 2010

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photo © Daniele Mattioli

Organizers of the 2010 World Expo, as well as construction workers are busily working towards being fully organized for the planned opening of the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, China on May 1, 2010.   The specific event is planned to be the largest World Expo in history ever since it began in 1851 with the Great Exhibition at London's Crystal Palace. The theme of the Expo is "Better City, Better Life", and is scheduled to run until October 31, 2010. For the past few months, large construction and renovation projects have dominated much of Shanghai, in preparation for becoming the World's stage on May 1st. Up to 800,000 visitors are expected each day - a total of 70 million visitors in all visiting exhibitions from nearly 200 participants around the world.

photo © Daniele Mattioli

Sponsored by the Bureau International des Expositions, the Shanghai Expo will be the largest the world has seen till this day.  The Expo is staged on a 5.28 square kilometer city center site beside the Huangpu River, and features pavilions which represent the ideas and cultural and commercial ambitions of more than 200 countries and international organizations.

video © UK Shangai Pavilion // Expo 2010

The UK Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo expresses British creativity and environmental engagement at the biggest event of its kind since the Expo phenomenon began in 1851.  The UK Pavilion has been designed by Heatherwick Studio, which is led by the internationally-acclaimed English designer Thomas Heatherwick,  His design team won the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) commission to create the Pavilion following a competition that attracted a shortlist of ambitious architectural proposals from other teams. 

photo © Daniele Mattioli

Heatherwick Studio’s initial design strategic approach for the UK Pavilion established three aims to meet the FCO’s key expectation that the pavilion should become one of the five most popular attractions at the Expo. The first aim was to design a pavilion whose architecture was a direct demonstration of what it was exhibiting. The second aim was to ensure a significant area of open public space around it so visitors could relax and choose either to enter the pavilion building, or see it clearly from a calm, non-queuing vantage point. And thirdly, it would be unique among the hundreds of other competing pavilions, events and programs.

photo © Daniele Mattioli

photo © Daniele Mattioli

In collaboration with other design teams Heatherwick Studio developed a design concept where the UK Pavilion explores the relationship between nature and city. After all London happens to be the greenest city of its size in the world; the UK pioneered the world’s first ever public park and the world’s first major botanical institution, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.  What a better way to advertize the UK with a rather unconventional approach, the Seed Cathedral.

photo © Daniele Mattioli

On a 6,000 square meter UK Pavilion site sits the Seed Cathedral carefully centered.  The Seed Cathedral is 20 meters tall and is formed from 60,000 slender transparent fiber optic rods.  Each fiber optic rod is 7.5 meters long and encloses one or more seeds at its tip. During the day, they draw daylight inwards to illuminate the interior. At night, light sources inside each rod allowing the entire structure to glow. When the wind blows the optic “hairs” gently move as they create a dynamic effect for the viewers.    Inside the darkened inner chamber of the Seed Cathedral” the tips of the fiber optic filaments form an apparently hovering galaxy of slim vitrines containing a vast array of embedded seeds.”

 © Heatherwick Studio

The fiber optic filaments are quite responsive to exterior lighting circumstances and any fluctuations in the exterior natural lighting are experienced as an unpredictable luminosity.  With the Seed Cathedral, Heatherwick Studio intently wants to create an atmosphere of admiration, respect and worship about the collection of the world’s botanical resources.   However, having achieved such a spectacular Pavilion what sounds best of all is that it was the British government’s intention that most of the materials of the UK Pavilion will be reused or recycled at the end of the Expo.   

 © Heatherwick Studio

Lead Designer: Heatherwick Studio
Key Construction Materials:  steel and timber composite structure, 60,000 fiber optic filaments, aluminum sleeves
Site area: 6000 square meters
Seed Cathedral dimensions: 25m x 25m x 20m
Seed Cathedral floor area: 105 square meters
Optic fibers: 60,588
Optic fibers length: 7.5 meters
Seeds in Seed Cathedral: 217,300
Landscape area: 4490 square meters
Public park area: 2405 square meters
Accommodation area: 1525 square meters
Exhibition area: 1280 square meters

 © Heatherwick Studio

 © Heatherwick Studio


UK Shanghai Pavilion , Heatherwick Studio

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Heatherwick Studio

About Heatherwick Studio

Heatherwick Studio exists to make extraordinary projects happen. Established by Thomas Heatherwick in 1994, it is recognized for its work in: architecture, urban infrastructure, sculpture, furniture design and strategic thinking. Team members come from disciplinary backgrounds that include architecture, product design, model-making, fabrication, landscape design, fine art and curation. The team structure has relatively few layers of hierarchy. Six areas of special responsibility are each looked after by a Team Leader: people, studio, business, craft, planning and the Hong Kong studio. And while the whole team contributes to design processes, each project is managed by a Project Leader, in close contact with the client.

Heatherwick Studio’s Associate Directors include Fred Manson, the former environment director of London Borough of Southwark who commissioned Tate Modern, Peckham Library and the Millennium Bridge, and the structural engineer Ron Packman.

Thomas is an Honorary Fellow of the RIBA and a Senior Fellow at the Royal College of Art. He is the recipient of honorary doctorates from four British universities – Sheffield Hallam, Brighton, Dundee and Manchester Metropolitan. He has won the Prince Philip Designers Prize and in 2006, was the youngest practitioner to be appointed a Royal Designer for Industry.  He has served on numerous judging and advisory panels and has given lectures, tutorials and talks at the Bartlett School of Architecture, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and Yale University.

Heatherwick Studio operates from premises in Kings Cross, central London. Part of the studio has always been a workshop for making models, experimental pieces and prototypes. With this resource, it has been possible for Heatherwick Studio to act as a contractor on its projects.  Heatherwick Studio’s clients include: property developers, publicly limited companies, sovereign wealth funds, religious communities, the British government, local authorities, charitable trusts, a school, a hospital, a luggage company, landed estates, museums and private individuals.

[official website]
  • friend
    Susan Kennedy | 2010-04-06 19:00:13

    That is the scariest thing I have seen all week.

  • friend
    helena | 2010-04-07 15:14:43

    amazing! just love it!

  • friend
    Davidikus | 2010-04-07 16:11:41

    This is a very strange design. It draws on the design of Selfridge's in Birmingham by Future Concepts. To be fair, I don't think it is entirely successful - some will definitely find it scary (it looks like a hybrid between a sea-urchin and a women's nether bits). I find it slightly gimmicky and perhaps lacking substance. The Brits are very good at PR, so every British design appears everywhere on the web & blogs - don't be fooled. I might be wrong but I presume there will be better architecture from other countries. On paper, I like the ones from Brazil, France, Japan, the US, Spain, perhaps Portugal, Italy...

  • friend
    tudza | 2010-04-09 03:25:22

    The area around this thing screams SKATE PARK!

  • friend
    n | 2010-04-09 11:41:46

    The area around it is a total skatepark, im going there right now

  • friend
    mOBiTh | 2010-04-09 21:34:09

    reckon that'll be a right b**ch to clean...

  • friend
    Nathan Rodriguez | 2010-04-10 04:17:53

    What a strange and beautiful design... Looks "fluffy" from distance, whatever fluffy means.

  • friend
    Fiona Bowie | 2010-04-10 09:22:38

    it's gorgeous conceptually... and to look at, but poison at it's very core. PLASTIC most toxic, ubiquitous, insidious material killer energy elsewhere please end to world expositions (corporate ad ops)

  • friend
    ABi | 2010-04-10 16:51:39

    Didn't really like it. Bad aura. Very threatening.

  • friend
    jessie Dejonghe | 2010-04-11 04:00:08

    wonder what the effect would be if it were on ice, it could have that fuzzy reflection and you could ice skate around it. It also might help with the threatening spiny explosion feeling that people are reacting to.

  • friend
    Lauren | 2010-04-13 22:17:27

    This thing freaks me out...

  • friend
    andrea | 2010-04-16 18:59:42

    I first experienced TH's work in Sussex, it was a small garden building, I think it was a degree show work, that was impressive and years later he does not fail to impress. The Shanghai Pavilion is stunning can't wait to see it !

  • friend
    Ackm Antz | 2010-04-21 05:54:41

    Every time I see pictures of this I wonder if this is real. It's such a weird piece of architecture, that texture is just very unusual... it kind of makes me dizzy to look at it.

  • friend
    Alia Babapulle | 2010-04-26 18:52:20

    As an interior designer, I am always looking for the unusual and this is simply wonderful. Great design and execution and everything can be recycled, fantastic. What on earth is scary about it?

  • friend
    hugh oliveiro | 2010-05-08 17:39:27

    What an amazing and beautiful concept. It is in the true sense of the word, 'AWSOME'. My only criticism, to give the structure the sense of veneration it deserves, would be to have had it slightly off the ground, in the middle of a massive black base area. The undulating surround at the moment, fights with the aura this most amazing work. LOVE IT!!! Hugh Oliveiro

  • friend
    noname | 2010-05-09 11:37:20

    This design of UK pavillion and the previous one of this Heatherwick Studio is coming first from the french group R&Sie(n) in 2001 But in this case it was not a pilosity to produce a decor for Chinese word fair but as a powerstation…for transferring sun energy in the Unplug sustainability… Why architects are always reducing ideas to aesthetic scleroses ?

  • friend
    Christopher Nicholls | 2010-05-10 07:42:13

    I think it looks like some kind of alien life-form: It looks predatory and dangerous. Is that what the UK are trying to project?

  • friend
    anna | 2010-05-16 19:23:15

    wow, this cathedral is incredible. i hope i get to see it in my life, because it is so beautiful.

  • friend
    CΓ©line | 2010-06-12 15:50:48

    I've seen it! It is as beautiful in a picture that in true.

  • friend
    Maricel | 2010-06-20 12:16:51

    I like the detailed creation of the architectural design. But I wonder how they will clean this one? It's a pretty tough job for the in-charge, I'm pretty sure of that.

  • friend
    Ashna Seetaram | 2010-06-22 18:19:14

    im a student,study on interioir design..frankly speaking,wow,dis deisgn are wonderfull fantabulous..i like it..:))

  • friend
    Gan Xu | 2010-06-28 06:15:02

    I have visited Shanghai Expo for two days, the UK Shanghai Pavilion is the best of all. This is what we call 'design'. It is the only pavilion in which there is not a single word. Less is more!

  • friend
    helen | 2010-07-31 07:52:38

    went there three months ago - one of the most gorgeous pavilions, I must say. Simple yet extremely intricate

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