Mind & Matter


Shanghai Diary: City as Fairground

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The Norway and Ireland pavilions, Shanghai Expo 2010. Photo: Blaine Brownell.


I arrived last Friday in Shanghai to visit the World Expo 2010 site, eager to assess the current state-of-the-art in architecture and urban design as envisioned by a broad set of international practices. I could not help but notice the spectacular scale of the expo territory, profoundly impressive at 5.28 square kilometers—yet unsurprising given the reports that more money was invested here than in Beijing during the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Given their fleeting nature, world expositions can feel extremely temporary. Although the pavilion structures range in their durability, the infrastructure for the Shanghai expo is built to last. New subway lines, roads, plazas, and tunnels do a remarkable job of ferreting massive numbers of visitors to the expo site every day. There is even a suite of new buses and taxi cabs that transport clamorous mobs of Chinese tourists around the city.

The expo theme, “Better City, Better Life,” presents positive aspirations for this rapidly-growing metropolis, and the new infrastructural investment certainly reinforces the sincerity of such a vision. However, the very nature of an expo as a glorified fair makes it something other than a city—a place where people live, work, and carry out their daily activities—and as such provides little indication about how the site will be utilized in the future. Nevertheless, the Shanghai Expo offers many compelling perspectives for what such a city could be, and in future posts I will delve into more details about a few of these perspectives.





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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.