Michael Geller's holiday snapshots from Shanghai Expo 2010 – see slideshow
He's back in one piece, and planning to return to Shanghai. That is, after he skips off to Spain in a few weeks. I really envy Michael Geller's travel schedule, but I realize that he's probably banked a little time off during the years of his career. I had my first encounter with Michael only a few years ago, and when he had just returned from – you guessed it – more world travel.
Back in 2007 Michael held a PowerPoint presentation for the Planner's Institute of BC on what he learned about cities from circumnavigating the globe. I surprised myself that I was able to assemble most of his points from memory and into a blog post the next day. So much of what he talked about resonated that I couldn't get it out of my head. I especially liked the ideas around public transport, building parks to celebrate local history and improving stairwells to encourage walking.
Now Michael has documented for all of us his fascinating experiences in Shanghai Expo 2010:
The theme of the Shanghai World Expo now taking place until October 31, 2010 is Better City, Better Life. By choosing the ‘city’ concept as its theme, the organizers are hoping to address the global trend of urbanization.The fair is doing this with displays by 242 countries and organizations. There are also five major theme pavilions: Urbanian, City Being, Urban Planet, Footprint and Future.
With his permission I've taken his photos and put them into a Flickr slideshow. You can especially see from his photos, and these ones posted elsewhere, the striking architectual design of the 2010 Expo pavilions. It makes you think of the "Century of Progress" 1933 World's Fair in Chicago, which was an expression of a nation full of confidence and on the rise. Arguably, this is what is happening with China today – and they are the country of the 21st Century.
He describes the vividness of light displays, with a droll reminder of how provincial we can be here:
Often, they are a riot of colour, composed from crystal resin and vibrant LED screens. An "intelligent film" on the Private Enterprises Pavilion produces different visual effects as viewing and sunlight angles change. Advanced digital projection technologies allow facades to be constantly changing, especially at night when the Expo grounds turn into a digital fireworks extravaganza.
Watching some of these buildings, I could not help but think about the public furore in Vancouver over the installation of a small electronic billboard at the south end of the Burrard Bridge.
He writes about how Vancouver wants to be the "greenest city" but notes that the competition out there is pretty fierce.
Every pavilion displays ideas to create more sustainable buildings and cities. The Germany Pavilion illustrates how older mid-20th-century public housing blocks can be transformed into "urban villas" through energy refurbishment measures and the addition of balconies… Other German innovations include a system of car-sharing in Bremen that allows users to drop off cars wherever they want; intergenerational and intercultural community allotment gardens in Stuttgart that bring together different ethnicities and age groups…
The pavilions make it apparent that many cities are creatively greening themselves.
Vancouver's pavilion presence had a weird avatar with a digital Gregor Robertson head attached to it. Somehow it feels vaguely symbolic Vancouver City Hall itself, where Mike Magee and Penny Ballem call the shots (they're the body) with a telegenic stand-in placed on top.
Geller describes such amazing feats of building design, nothing like we saw at Expo '86 which were for the most part boxy and crude. Shanghai's Expo has buildings that aspire to be as beautiful as the Bird's Nest or Aquatic Centre of the 2006 Summer Olympics:
While I had high expectations, I have not been disappointed. Many of the international designs are outstanding, including the Czech Pavilion that features a map of the old town of Prague fashioned from…63,415 black rubber ice-hockey pucks. The Canada Pavilion, conceive by Cirque Soleil, is shaped like a large letter ‘C’ and covered in large part in…what else… wood. The Japanese Pavilion has a pink luminescent membrane with solar cells, allowing it to become an eco friendly Breathing Organism. The popular UK Pavilion looks like a porcupine or dandelion about to go to seed, with 60,000 crystalline spines that are tipped with tiny lights. Other fascinating pavilions include the Spanish pavilion which is finished in wicker panels, and the multicolored Korean Pavilion decorated with Hangeul and art pixels.
There are also some exciting applications of the idea of "adaptive re-use", which is a concept that is foreign to most of us. When I was a part of the Vancouver City Planning Commission we made adaptability of both public space and built form the central theme of our work. Geller talks about how an innovative French idea to "wrap" older buildings in a light-weight concrete weave:
Lafarge Cement, which developed an innovative lightweight material for the exterior of the pavilion, is proposing full-length decorative concrete "coats" for older highrise buildings. These would support vegetation and other energy-saving devices to improve comfort and energy efficiency. The visual result is not unlike the futuristic visions of cities illustrated in 1950s comic books and magazines.
For those who haven't had a chance to read Michael's Shanghai Expo columns – all of which were published by the Vancouver Sun in recent weeks – be sure to check them out on Geller's blog.
- post by Mike