Shanghai Expo 2010 USA Pavilion Preview

Travel | by Stephan Larose
Posted: March 27th, 2009 | Updated: November 1st, 2010 | Comments
Let the doubters and naysayers be silenced!  At least for the moment.... The USA Shanghai Expo 2010 team has released the latest images of the USA Pavilion concept, and we're pleased to give you a peek at what promises to be quite an Expo experience—if all goes according to plan.
After months of uncertainty and not a little controversy within the American expat community about the desirability of an American presence at Shanghai's big show in these trying economic times, Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc. has released several new USA Pavilion images and info—and it's looking really good.

Slated to showcase the best in American green design, the airy, futuristic building may not be quite as showy as some other national pavilions, but it should give them all a run for their money  when it comes to green technology and building materials.

Given the economic and environmental challenges facing the community of nations, the approach feels smart, and it feels right. The design is post-industrial Earth-in-the-balance cool (Al Gore's cool now, right? Right?) and the technology should be top notch.

Among the technologies to be showcased: green building materials and processes; sustainable procurement and agriculture; clean energy; state-of-the-art health services; and cutting-edge telecommunications.

The pavilion’s roof garden will supply organic fruits and vegetables to be served at VIP dinners. Other proposed green design elements include:
  • Water purifying/recycling water gardens and reed beds.
  • An entrance canopy covered with pneumatic ETFE foil pillows incorporating thin-film photo-voltaic solar cells.
  • In lieu of air-conditioning, high level water-misting systems, waterfalls and reflecting pools to provide evaporative cooling.
  • A rooftop wild bird habitat that extends over onto vertical, intensively-planted walls.
  • Clear photo-voltaic solar cell shading.
So, should Americans start popping open those bottles of California organic champagne? Alas, though hopes are running high, it looks like the best we can hope for at the moment is a hopeful "maybe."

The US Expo team, led by Shanghai Expo 2010 Inc. co-chair Ellen Eliasoph recently held a fundraising breakfast for potential sponsors, with enthusiastic Chinese diplomatic backing in the form of Chinese ambassador to the U.S. Zhou Wenzhong.

Zhou told potential sponsors that the Shanghai Expo was a great opportunity to increase friendship and understanding between the two nations and that the Expo would help restore confidence in the world economy. Eliasoph described sponsor reaction to the pitch as “very encouraging.” Addressing American corporations specifically, Zhou expressed his hope that they would take the long view and actively support US Expo participation. Delivery of this message by one of China’s highest diplomatic potentates appears to underscore the importance to many in both US and Chinese circles of securing American participation. Though not all agree, many in the business community feel strongly that a failure to participate could result in a loss of face for both host China and the US, especially given that some of the Expo site's best real estate has been reserved for the nation which Shanghai Expo organizers would like to welcome as a premier guest of honor. Now, with the release of a few Shanghai Expo 2010’s images, the curtain has been pulled back a tantalizing bit, with key details finally taking shape after a period of secrecy that was fraught with speculation following several difficult moments for pro-Expo American organizers. Shanghai Expo 2010 actually suspended its fundraising efforts in October of last year after failing to find major sponsors, prompting a consortium of designers and professionals called BH&L to start fundraising efforts of their own. Working diligently to avoid what they called “an insult to the Chinese government, global humiliation for the American people,” BH&L were surprised to find Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc. suddenly back in the game again last December.

Despite the move, news of sponsorship never emerged and the closest thing to confirmation of US participation was Expo 2010 deputy director Wan Jifei's assertion of a "verbal agreement" between China and the US, though nothing was produced in writing.

A high-level spokesperson at the US consulate in Shanghai would not give committal responses, to the point that even the World’s Fair Community was asking the American Chamber of Commerce to "kindly let the World's Fair Community know what is happening." The reason official response was limited to this enigmatic "verbal agreement," Eliasoph explained, was that the discussion took place at the governmental level, and the US State Department simply could not put ink to paper without guaranteed full funding.
Despite the fact that the State Department, first through Secretary of State Rice, then Clinton, fully supported US participation in the Expo, the US government is barred from funding the pavilion due to a law passed in 1991. According to some, the law was passed as a way to snub Spain during their Expo for not hosting NATO bases, though others argue that Expos and World Fairs have become expensive anachronisms in this age of global connectedness. [UPDATE 30 March: After publication of this article, we were informed by Robert Jacobson of BH&L Group that the there is considerable controversy and confusion surrounding the abovementioned 1991 law, due according to Mr. Jacobson to misunderstandings or even misinformation stemming from Bush Administration Expo policy. We'll have more on this matter and BH&L's efforts to make an American pavilion a reality in a follow-up feature coming soon. ]

Regardless, funding now seems to be coming through. Eliasoph recently announced that 3M, a leading US corporation, has signed on as an innovation sponsor for the project, which despite all the drama, is as ambitious as ever—an ambition reflected in the pavilion’s revised theme: “Rise to the Challenge.”

We certainly hope that they do, and we'll continue to follow the full-tilt efforts of American backers to make the USA Pavilion a reality as the April 15 US State Department deadline for official endorsement rapidly approaches. Rendition of the USA Pavilion at night. Is that an Aptera electric car we see on the screen? View a panorama of the Expo grounds under development here. All images courtesy of Shanghai Expo 2010 Inc. Note: Precedent images displaying materials used in previous projects that were posted with this story have been removed to avoid causing any confusion.
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