Mind & Matter


Shanghai Diary: Wicker and Steel

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The Spain Pavilion, Shanghai Expo 2010. Photo by Blaine Brownell.


Situated at the eastern end of the European area of the Shanghai Expo site lies the Spain pavilion. With a notably larger footprint than its neighboring structures, the pavilion is a visually arresting display of experimental cladding comprised of woven wicker panels fastened to a tubular steel frame. The elaborate geometry of the façade adds to the effect of a hovering tidal wave primed to crash onto the long lines of visitors below. The building was designed by Miralles Tagliabue EMBT as an homage to a traditional material and handcraft common to both Spain and China—a profound recognition of the countries' similarities as opposed to their differences.

The unusual mixture of a sophisticated steel frame and natural reed mats imparts a kind of visual vibration, and the intentionally fuzzy edges of the building drift in and out of focus. Technically speaking, this pairing is executed brilliantly in the way that the wicker panels are allowed to twist and contort naturally based on their own inherent mechanical properties—as opposed the type of hermetically-fitted, individually-customized metal panels found on a Frank Gehry building. This successful pairing allows structure and skin to be simultaneously coupled and distinct, allowing varying degrees of light and view to penetrate the edifice.

It is comforting to see the extent to which the treatment of an architectural façade can resonate with a building's surroundings, and the Spain pavilion is as refreshingly unique as it is culturally contextual. I'm pleased to know that this significant structure may be accessible to future visitors, with preliminary indications that the pavilion might remain in China after the expo.




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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.