Launch Slideshow

Report from the 2012 World Expo in South Korea, Part Two

Report from the 2012 World Expo in South Korea, Part Two

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    Blaine Brownell

    Interior of the Belgium pavilion at the Yeosu World Expo 2012, an example of space ruled by signs

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    Blaine Brownell

    Interior of the Lithuanian pavilion, featuring a minimal, amber-themed space

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    Blaine Brownell

    Specimens of Baltic Amber viewed inside a vitrine at the Lithuanian Pavilion

At world expositions, the country pavilions present a unique opportunity and challenge: How to best represent the face of a nation, especially to an audience that may never have traveled there before? Particularly difficult is the prospect of summarizing something as complex and diverse as a country within a single exhibit.

After touring many of these pavilions, I would argue that the more variety and higher quantity of content one tries to pack in, the worse the overall experience becomes. Not only does cramming too much information lead to overload, but it also tends to displace architecture in favor of signage. If a visitor wants to read a collection of signs, he or she might as well read a book or website.

An example of a successful model at the Yeosu 2012 World Expo is the Lithuanian pavilion. Rather than try to stuff all facts about Lithuania into a single interior space, the exhibition designers chose instead to focus on one thing: amber. As one helpful pavilion attendant informed me, buried riverbeds from the Eocene era in Lithuiania are home to rich deposits of this golden-colored resin. Baltic amber often features inclusions of 40 to 50 million year old plants and insects. In short, this "gold of the north" is a treasure of which Lithuania can be proud. 

Entry into the Lithuanian pavilion gives an immediate impression of being immersed into an amber-infused space. A minimally designed interior featuring amber-colored surfaces—including an underlit, golden-pearlescent floor—is a noticeable departure from the typical overcooked pavilion space. The main attraction here consists of a collection of bollard-style vitrines containing prime specimens of this ancient substance, revealing trapped ferns, spiders, and a lizard under illuminated magnifying lenses. The experience is remarkable, and most importantly, memorable. Although I didn't learn anything about Lithuania's GNP or popular children's cartoon heroes here, I did receive a meaningful impression about one significant treasure of this country. Compared with the visual noise of many other country pavilions, this is one impression I will recall with pleasure.

Read Part One or Part Three in this series.