First Published in
The UK Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo is a sight to behold. It's quiet, tranquil and environmentally friendly. And it has a Seed Cathedral inside.
Designed by Thomas Heatherwick of Heatherwick Studio, the pavilion’s architecture is a direct manifestation of what it is exhibiting. They wanted to engage the theme of the expo – "Better City, Better Life" – by exploring the relationship between cities and nature.
London is the greenest city of its size in the world and the UK pioneered the world’s first public park and the world’s first major botanical institute, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
So it’s apt that Heatherwick Studio has brought Kew Garden’s Milennium Seedbank on board the UK Pavilion. The Seedbank’s aim is to collect seeds of 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020. The design process of the UK Pavilion evolved to produce two related elements: an architecturally iconic Seed Cathedral, and a multi-layered landscape treatment of the 6 000 square-metre site.
The Seed Cathedral is in the centre of the UK Pavilion site. It’s 20 metres in height, formed from 60 000 slender transparent fibre optic rods, each 7.5 metres long and each encasing one or more seeds at its tip.
During the day, the fibre optic rods draw daylight inwards to illuminate the interior. At night, light sources inside each rod allow the whole structure to glow. As the wind moves past, the building and its optic “hairs” gently move to create a dynamic effect.
After the expo, the Seed Cathedral’s 60 000 optic hairs will be distributed to schools across the UK and China.