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May 1, 2010 5:14 AM   Subscribe

How could this happen? A Reporter’s Guide to the USA Pavilion Debacle at Expo 2010. As the World Expo 2010 opens, Adam Minter, journalist blogger at Shanghai Scrap, provides a timely summary of his series of posts that have looked at the scandal and farce behind the building of the US's sub-optimal pavilion.
posted by Abiezer (91 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Highlights: Gray Steel Structure
posted by R. Mutt at 5:20 AM on May 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I didn't think that ours looked too bad until I went through the slide show of the other countries pavilions on Huffington. If I saw it in a suburban office park, it would look pretty cool compared to most crappy US architecture these days but compared to the international pavilions, ours looks pretty pathetic.
posted by octothorpe at 5:29 AM on May 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


The USA Pavilion is a mammoth gray steel structure meant to resemble an eagle stretching its wings in welcome.

That doesn't even look good on paper. Which part of "mammoth gray steel" was supposed to represent sustainability?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:34 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who authorized this expat to name his blog Shanghai is Crap?
posted by ennui.bz at 5:39 AM on May 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Common knowledge, ennui, and the view of all discerning persons - no permission required.
posted by Abiezer at 5:42 AM on May 1, 2010


The pavilion website is sub-optimal, too. In the first block, "Pavilion features," the third sentence is a verbatim repeat of the first sentence. That sentence (The USA Pavilion is a mammoth gray steel structure meant to resemble an eagle stretching its wings in welcome) should have been edited for mixing its metaphors, since mammoths did not have wings.
posted by beagle at 5:50 AM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and, do eagles actually stretch their wings in welcome?
posted by beagle at 5:51 AM on May 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


One of my favorite blogs. The Expo pavilion thing has been incredible to watch unfold over the last year and a bit.

Also: Oh, and since the question has been publicly raised, again (see comments section of this post on the Minnesota Public Radio site), let me repeat: it is Shanghai Scrap, not Shanghai Is Crap. I’m just not that clever. (link)
posted by zhwj at 5:57 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, the World Expo is relevant again?
posted by Atreides at 5:57 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


minimalism ...it's a good thing!
gaudy, not so much.
posted by billybobtoo at 5:58 AM on May 1, 2010


Oh, and, do eagles actually stretch their wings in welcome?

Only to their prey.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:00 AM on May 1, 2010


>> Oh, and, do eagles actually stretch their wings in welcome?

>Only to their prey


As in, "Welcome, immigrants, to Arizona!"
posted by jeremias at 6:06 AM on May 1, 2010 [19 favorites]


The UK pavillion is really hard to look at, but in a cool, optical illusion-y way.
posted by Grimgrin at 6:09 AM on May 1, 2010


Wow, fascinating bit of obsessed political reporting from a smart local blog. Great post, Abiezer, thanks.
posted by mediareport at 6:20 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ugh, the U.S. Pavalon is some ugly-ass nonsense. It just looks cheap with that gaudy matte metal. It looks like the material you would build an airplane hangar, or a shanty down shack out of.

But ground was only broken a scant nine months ago, and it shows: the US pavilion is just a series of movie theatres that will show Americans doing schmaltzy things like speaking bad Chinese and living in a paradise of happy social diversity.

Heh.
posted by delmoi at 6:23 AM on May 1, 2010


(shanty down = shanty town)
posted by delmoi at 6:25 AM on May 1, 2010


The article compares it to:

a combination Bose Sound System/Air Purifier.

I get that this thing sucks, but that's just mean.
posted by Malor at 6:26 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


how is this in any way not a sign of the times?
posted by krautland at 6:29 AM on May 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh, and:

That fact shouldn’t be taken as a strike against FSOs (I know many, many good and conscientious FSOs), but it should be taken as a warning about what can happen when un-elected bureaucrats are left room to maneuver by Congressional, public, and media ambivalence.

C'mon, that's not fair. Nobody cared, so the bureaucrats did their jobs. That's what we pay them to do. We had many years to raise a stink about this, and failed to do so. (we were, admittedly, distracted by the ongoing disaster of that administration, but still.) The politicians, the guys we did elect, didn't give a f*ck, so now suddenly it's the fault of the guys we didn't? They had oversight, we didn't complain, and we got a bad outcome. But somehow, it's not our fault?

Argh.
posted by Malor at 6:31 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


.....There's a 2010 World Expo?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:45 AM on May 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Isn't this exactly the right thing to do when you're facing an economic crisis: scrimp and save on things that don't matter?
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:46 AM on May 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


Needs an SB会 tag.
posted by klue at 6:46 AM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


What's the big deal about the world expo? I understand that a lot of people have cool shiny pavilions and that the US doesn't but so what? Since when did everyone start caring so much about national and regional branding? Isn't pavilion one-upmanship the same superficial conversation about "iconic" architecture writ small and temporary? It's tempting to think of this gathering as some sort of organic cultural expression but it's not, it's a global marketing exercise. If anything we should be thankful the US accidentally exposed the facileness of this beauty contest by not giving shit.
posted by doobiedoo at 6:51 AM on May 1, 2010 [9 favorites]


These types of expos are the perfect opportunity to go wild with experimenting in architecture, as that Huffington Post link shows. The American pavilion looks like a corporate office building in an industrial park. What an odd choice.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:52 AM on May 1, 2010


What's the point of the expo?
posted by empath at 6:54 AM on May 1, 2010


So...Is today's lesson that the private sector is as capable of fubar solutions as, so we are told, the public sector?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:59 AM on May 1, 2010


The American pavilion does look better from those other angles, but it's more concept than execution. I liked the South Korean, Canadian and Brazilian pavilions from that HuffPost slideshow, but the British one is both incredibly impressive and very creepy, like a pet hedgehog poised to take over the world.

Does the 2010 Expo have a theme song and video? This is crucial, because I have standards.
posted by maudlin at 7:02 AM on May 1, 2010


Yeah, that British one is really interesting. I'll have to find photos from other angles. What are those things, anyway? I also really liked the Australian pavilion. Reminded me of something you'd see built in British Columbia.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:07 AM on May 1, 2010


The whole thing is waste and excess at its worst. I wish the US had stayed out of it. Why build dozens of temporary buildings designed to be disposable? "Look, everybody, this is how X is burning their portion of our remaining natural resources!"
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:12 AM on May 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is actually part of the public penance for the eight years of Bush.

Not that we're doing a very good job of saying we're sorry, but the repeated humiliation of things like this and the Oklahoma legislature's forays into insanity help let the world know how we really feel about things.
posted by warbaby at 7:13 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm of two minds about this. On one hand, I'm disappointed that the US didn't take advantage of this opportunity to do something creative and inspirational with the potential to influence generations of future architects (something like Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion); on the other, I agree to some extent with Malor, EmpressCallipygos and anotherpanacea -- We have no one to blame but ourselves, this Expo is not exactly world-shattering, and maybe we have better things to be focusing on right now.

Maybe the right approach for the future would be to create a standing US Architecture Committee (like an Olympic Committee) made up of architects, fundraisers and diplomats to manage our participation in these kinds of exhibitions.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:13 AM on May 1, 2010


Is this something you'd have to have a T.V. to know about?
posted by saladin at 7:18 AM on May 1, 2010


Huffington Post's slideshow wasn't loading for me, so I went looking and found better pictures at Big Picture.
posted by emelenjr at 7:26 AM on May 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


I was at the Expo in 1986 in Tsukuba, Japan, and the US pavillion was similarly underwhelming and embarrassing to me and my family. I guess this is a recurring problem.
posted by Edgewise at 7:32 AM on May 1, 2010


ThatCanadianGirl: Yeah, that British one is really interesting. I'll have to find photos from other angles. What are those things, anyway? I also really liked the Australian pavilion. Reminded me of something you'd see built in British Columbia.

Here is a close-up photo of some of those hedgehoggy spines from boston.com. The link was posted as a comment in a thread couple of days ago, but for the life of me I can't find it again to properly assign credit. Sorry original linker!
posted by Anderson_Localized at 7:32 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Isn't this exactly the right thing to do when you're facing an economic crisis: scrimp and save on things that don't matter?

No, that's actually the worst possible response. see paradox of thrift.

Lets say you have a 10% unemployment rate. Consumers start worrying about the future, so they stop spending money. That means companies can't sell their products. So what they do? They lay people off. Congratulations! Now the unemployment rate is 12%! Wonderful.

And now if the government cuts back too, the disaster gets even worse. Depending on the government, it should always be able to get a loan (U.S., Japan, U.K, yes. Greece and Iceland, maybe not). By spending money on random stuff the government reduces the unemployment rates, increases confidence, and helps people get out of the economic slump.

The other thing to remember is that during an economic crisis, there's a "flight to quality" that actually makes it cheaper for the government (the U.S. government, anyway) to borrow money. Not borrowing money during these periods is pretty stupid.
posted by delmoi at 7:37 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think Expos are horseshit, and that they lost their function about fifty years ago. The only interesting question is whether the US should (a) politely decline to participate, explaining that it has contributed the estimated cost of participating to foreign aid, or (b) accept with high concept, low cost pavilions, like an empty lot covered with sand to represent the Mojave or a car wash with a few scantily clad employees covered in suds.

This looks like it was an overly obscure attempt at (b), designed to display the mediocrity of public-private partnerships.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:42 AM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


delmoi: funding welcome-wingy steel eagles built overseas doesn't get you the most bang for your government buck.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:44 AM on May 1, 2010


Oh my gosh, Anderson_Localized, thanks for that! Imagine the time and money that went into creating that thing. Good lord.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:46 AM on May 1, 2010


Edgewise, do you mean Expo 85? Because Expo 86 was in Vancouver, BC.
posted by Tacodog at 7:46 AM on May 1, 2010


Not the 2010 Expo! Anything but that! The shame! The horror!

On the bright side I am now aware that here is an international expo.
posted by Bonzai at 7:55 AM on May 1, 2010


delmoi: funding welcome-wingy steel eagles built overseas doesn't get you the most bang for your government buck.

Sure, probably not but I was just pointing out how wrong it is to think "It's an economic crisis, I should stop spending money". The reason it's an economic crisis is because people decide to stop spending money.
posted by delmoi at 7:56 AM on May 1, 2010


Huffington Post's slideshow wasn't loading for me, so I went looking and found better pictures at Big Picture.

Is there any specific reason you did not warn us about the GIANT HORRIFYING ANIMATRONIC BABY? Because that was just cruel.
posted by elizardbits at 7:57 AM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


The US pavillion was privately funded. What's the point of crying for accountability?
posted by sour cream at 7:58 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a Taiwanese Pavilion? Really? That's interesting. I'd like to see the Polish papercutting dragon.

What's the point? Hello, friends around the world! The expo is a Magic Cube!
posted by shoesfullofdust at 8:00 AM on May 1, 2010


Oh, and to all those who ask what the point of the EXPO is or say that EXPOs are horseshit, have you ever been to one?

There's not much "point" in going to a museum either, but there are lots of interesting museums that opend-minded people get a kick out of.

BTW, my favorite pavilion ever was the Cuban one at the Nagoya Expo, which consisted largely of a bar at which they served free cuba libres.
posted by sour cream at 8:04 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. The local Shanghai government had to give us a loan to get this to happen at all. This whole thing is just amazingly embarrassing.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:12 AM on May 1, 2010


I'm glad that Obama and Clinton are continuing the proud tradition of appointing their fundraisers to cushy bullshit fake positions. And heaven forfend they be asked to not fucking suck at the easiest jobs in the world.

"Hey we're going to build a thing for the World Expo: make it happen."
"Great. Let's get our tenth-best architect to make it instead of me literally sketching a square with USA written on it on a pad of paper like that episode of The Simpsons where Homer designs a car."

FUCKING DONE YOU DUMB MOTHERFUCKERS
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:14 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


If people aren't aware, the World Expos are the modern incarnation of the World's Fairs, places where the latest technology, culture, and innovation used to be shown off (as well a chance for companies from the respective countries to advertise their wares) . They used to very popular events, one of the most famous being the first held at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851. Perhaps the most famous on American soil was the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. The St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 was also pretty popular. On a side note to that one, the writer Thomas Wolfe's family (with the exception of his father) moved from Asheville, North Carolina, to St. Louis for the chance for his mother to make some money. As a result, one of Thomas' brothers caught typhoid and died there.

Anyhoots, as Clyde Mnestera mentioned above, they pretty much began to lose their relevance about fifty some years ago. People stopped flocking to them in masses of millions and while they carried on, the prestige and popularity greatly declined.

The fact that the American pavilion received so little attention by the US government isn't a surprising. About every exposition, there's generally a few articles that pop up complaining about how so little thought was put into America's pavilion, but then the issue quickly fades and no one cares until the opportunity to complain again arises. I'd speculate that part of what has driven the reaction this year is the location in Shanghai, and obviously the Chinese are making more of a big affair out of it, as part of their on going effort to show off to the world their advancement.

Trivia question time: How many remember these recent Expos?

# Germany 2000 Hannover
# Japan 2005 Aichi
# Thailand 2006 Royal Flora Ratchaphruek
# Spain 2008 Zaragoza
posted by Atreides at 8:16 AM on May 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's almost like we don't want to be members of an international community, with an effort like that.
posted by contessa at 8:16 AM on May 1, 2010


I, too, visited Tsukuba in May 1985 and I agree with edgewise

otoh, I shall be visiting Shanghai in three weeks and shall attempt to let you guys know via a grey follow up how the reality on the ground is. Maybe even try to see if the author of the blog might be willing to meet.
posted by infini at 8:21 AM on May 1, 2010


It's almost like we don't want to be members of an international community, with an effort like that.

If the international community jumped off a cliff, would you follow?

Slightly more seriously: if the international community decided that it wanted to spend gobs of money on a second-rate Chamber of Commerce Olympics, to which the public was increasingly indifferent, and which as often as not resulted in stupid structures hanging around cities like mountains of used "disposable" diapers, would you go all in?
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:24 AM on May 1, 2010


Clyde Mnestra: I think Expos are horseshit

Ahem. They're Nationals now (but still horseshit.)

...and what a comedown that the nation that wowed Expo '67 is reduced to blighting Shanghai with what looks like Mapleburg's Finest Stripmall. You try that crap in MY TOWN in seven years (maybe) and WE'LL just meekly accept it.
posted by hangashore at 8:24 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


if the international community decided that it wanted to spend gobs of money on a second-rate Chamber of Commerce Olympics, to which the public was increasingly indifferent, and which as often as not resulted in stupid structures hanging around cities like mountains of used "disposable" diapers, would you go all in?

No, of course not. The expo is sort of pointless. Hell, I didn't even know it was going on until I saw this post. And for sure we have other budget items that ought to have higher priority than what basically amounts to a temporary building. However if we're going to participate there's nothing stopping us from being a tad more creative. The US pavilion just has the look to me of a giant, uninterested shrug.
posted by contessa at 8:28 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


qxntpqbbbqxl: "Wow. The local Shanghai government had to give us a loan to get this to happen at all. This whole thing is just amazingly embarrassing."

Borrowing money from China is how we build EVERYTHING

I made a crappy gingerbread house last Christmastime and I had to sell bonds to some dude in Guangzhou to get it done
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:29 AM on May 1, 2010 [16 favorites]


Even if previous Expos were not a big deal (Aichi isn't very easy to get to in Japan), this one ought to be. It's smack dab in Shanghai where all the new Chinese bourgeoise have made their home... a city of several hundred million people. They'll come to this pavilion and leave with the impression that America is floundering.

I guess they might be right.
posted by shii at 8:30 AM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


People stopped flocking to them in masses of millions and while they carried on, the prestige and popularity greatly declined.

Uh, they're expecting 70 million in Shanghai.
posted by sour cream at 8:31 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I went to the Knoxville World's Fair in 1982 when I was 7, and do you know what I remember about it? Playing Gorf in the hotel lobby. The fact that a computer could talk was way more mind blowing to me than anything there.
posted by empath at 8:32 AM on May 1, 2010


On the upside, they built that ugly piece of crap instead of whatever ugly, ridiculous piece of crap Frank Gehry would have designed.
posted by ecurtz at 8:35 AM on May 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's smack dab in Shanghai where all the new Chinese bourgeoise have made their home... a city of several hundred million people.

Shanghai is big, but it is not 10+% of the Chinese population big. Closer to 2%.
posted by kmz at 8:36 AM on May 1, 2010


Uh, they're expecting 70 million in Shanghai.

Uh...I think I mentioned how China, with a population of over a billion, is making a deal out of it
posted by Atreides at 8:45 AM on May 1, 2010


First bullet point in the article:

1990s – Congress restricts the US State Department’s ability to appropriate funds for the building of an Expo pavilion without express authorization from Congress. Relevant law, here, with amendments. Henceforth, the United States will depend upon private sector fund-raising to sponsor its participation in World’s Fairs/Expos.

That's the start of the problem right there. This isn't an expression of today's America, it's the outcome of a Gingrich-era congress passing silly laws to "pertect the taxpayers".
posted by gimonca at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's the start of the problem right there. This isn't an expression of today's America, it's the outcome of a Gingrich-era congress passing silly laws to "pertect the taxpayers".

I initially had the same reaction as you did. But then I thought, what's so wrong with this form of check on expenditures, for this kind of expenditure? Isn't there a risk that this kind of situation will involve the same kind of bureaucratic shenanigans and croneyism, but at greater public expense? I am genuinely curious.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:22 AM on May 1, 2010


...and what a comedown that the nation that wowed Expo '67...

Did you know the Buckminster Fuller-designed biosphere from that expo caught fire?

http://spacingmontreal.ca/2009/01/31/photo-du-jour-biosphere-burning/
...it was a welding operation during the maintenance of the outer covering, on May 20, 1976, that caused the spectacular fire which destroyed the entire acrylic shell in just half an hour, although the structure itself remained intact. After the fire, the dome was more or less abandoned for fifteen years...
From the comments:
A couple of us went there one morning after an all nighter. It was just a few days later. It was the most bizarre thing I had ever seen. It wasn't pitch black but did have what could only be scorchmarks all over it. And it was what it would be for another 15 years or so. Was a pretty cool abandonment as far as they go. Of course, there was no point in trying to hide if the cops came around. Lots of student films were shot in the shell. The "covering" was just glass.
Video of the fire:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ev2cFpP90uE

A photo of the inside of the dome (pre-fire?):

http://www.fineart.utoronto.ca/canarch/quebec/montreal/montreal.jpgs/23-86.jpg
posted by jjwiseman at 9:43 AM on May 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was at Expo 2000 in Hanover, where the USA didn't even have a pavilion. The only excuse I heard was that it was an election year. (??)

I walked around for a bit and couldn't figure out what the point was, except selling lots of overpriced Coca Cola. I was expecting lots of technological wizardry but the only cool thing was a force feedback mouse. Which wasn't all that cool.

What if instead of all these flashy useless buildings the countries would build useful public works? Like parts of a park or libraries or something.
posted by ropeladder at 9:43 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was 19 when mom asked me to come to Japan with her for two weeks and one of the places we got to visit was Tsukuba. The memory of the experience has stayed with me. The pavilions were cool and had rides and exhibits and were shiny and clean and the whole visit was worth a peek - the focus was science and technology - as if any one of you have visited a tech museum with hands on "play with this cool science device" or "what this robot do this when you poke this button" know, it makes a geek girl's heart melt.

Don't denigrate the opportunity for millions to see, smell, feel and taste the best that other cultures and nations have to offer and display. It may sound puerile to your wholly exposed to the globe senses but perhaps not to those who will visit such a fair.

I'm looking forward to my visit.
posted by infini at 9:58 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


what's so wrong with this form of check on expenditures, for this kind of expenditure?

Follow up question, to explore this further: does any other country have this sort of restriction? (Not directed at anyone, just asking in general.)
posted by gimonca at 9:59 AM on May 1, 2010


After looking at other exterior photos of the USA pavilion, I frankly liked the design. Reminded me of those shiny, sleek (were they aluminum- or steel-clad?) aerodynamic American trains of decades ago. The UK pavilion looks like a wower from the outside, but what strikes me most is an interior shot of a hand either pushing in or pulling out a transparent acrylic bar on a wall with glyphs. Shades of HAL's demise/repurposing in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Some pavilions appear to be yawners (e.g. North Korea). As for the Canada pavilion, it apparently had some design input from the Cirque du Soleil folks, so how could it not be among the best ;)

I wish I could afford to attend Expo 2010 in Shanghai and then report back on what I'd actually have seen and experienced pavilion-wise, instead of just spouting off virtually, as is my and possibly others' wont.
posted by drogien at 10:31 AM on May 1, 2010


I got a one day ticket to Expo 86 in Vancouver and it was awesome. For a 11 year old kid obsessed with space getting to see models of Russian space shuttles and a space lab blew my mind. I couldn't go to space camp but here was a piece of it *live* in my own province!

Being exposed to so many different cultures and pavilions taught me so much. I remember forcing my sister to take me through as many as possible (even the tiny little ones that were no more than a room). I still remember the Swiss one being the most amazing building to me (based on the Swatch watch if I remember) that I didn't mind the huge lineups. It set me off on an architectural phase that lasted for a long time til I realized I sucked at math.

For this weird geeky 11 yr old girl Expos rock!
posted by kanata at 10:40 AM on May 1, 2010


Yeah, Expos can be cool. Just because the concept may not be relevant to Americans doesn't mean that it lacks interest for the rest of the world. I remember Expo 86, too. It was the first time ever tried Kimchi - now there was an eye opener! This Expo looks like fun, and I wish I could visit, but Shanghai is too far away. Maybe if it comes here in 2017...

As for the main link in this FPP, it's an impressive piece of journalism, but on a subject that doesn't seem to rate this much ire. If Adam Minter wants the US to have a better pavilion, then he should focus his energy on getting his fellow Americans interested in the next Expo, rather than attempting to shame them into feeling bad about the current entry. All right, maybe this pavilion isn't great, but what could the US do better next time?
posted by Kevin Street at 12:31 PM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, and those Big Picture photos are really cool! (As usual.) From the skyline and freeway shots, it looks like Shanghai is slowly but surely morphing into Neo Tokyo. In another twenty-five years they'll probably have mecha and Tank Police speeding along those LED lit roads.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:53 PM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also it is full of wigs.
posted by flotson at 1:11 PM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I actually don't think this building is all that bad; not the best one there by a long shot, but hardly the disaster that some are making it out to be. What is more disappointing to me is the half-hearted way the US went about putting on the exhibit. Oh well, as a long-time government employee I once knew put it: "If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing half-assed."

On the other hand, the featureless metal exterior is very reminiscent of the VA hospital across the street from where I work. Its stylistic resemblance to another featureless government construction project earned it the enduring sobriquet "The Death Star" among generations of residents.
posted by TedW at 1:29 PM on May 1, 2010


I went to the 2005 Expo in Aichi Prefecture in Japan. The overall fair was pretty neat, and it was a good opportunity to see what each country took pride in. The Bulgarians offered all manner of rose-flavored everything, the Israeli Pavilion invited people to take a dip in the Dead Sea, and the Cuban Pavilion offered a variety of cocktails. I really liked the African Pavilion as an opportunity to hear what kinds of popular music people were listening to across the continent.

Still, even then, the US pavilion sucked. The rumor was that the Bush Administration, in a cost cutting measure, decided not to spend the money to participate in the Expo. Later, as the Expo neared, they were pressured/embarrassed into changing their minds and caved. So, we still spent money on an exhibit, only there was such little time to plan and build it that it was slapped together and looked small and pathetic compared to showings from other countries.

So, in light of that, this is kind of an improvement. Still, doing a crappy job at world expos is sort of turning into a tradition for the United States.
posted by Alison at 1:59 PM on May 1, 2010


Wow, fascinating bit of obsessed political reporting from a smart local blog.
Thanks, mediareport - that was partly my point in posting. This is really an excellent example of blogging as actual journalism. As zhwj implies (he should know, as one of the best China bloggers himself), Shanghai Scrap is a fine example of what blogging can be - informed and willing to go that extra mile to dig into local stories.
posted by Abiezer at 2:12 PM on May 1, 2010


It used to be that there would be roughly one World's Fair (now Expo) per decade. As you can see here, they are now very frequent.

Most World's Fairs are temporary exhibits. Which is a pity. They can leave nice things behind them, like the Seattle Center.
posted by warbaby at 2:56 PM on May 1, 2010


From the Telegraph today:

Many of the 170 or so pavilions on the site are architecturally stunning, and none more so than the UK's effort, a shimmering cube built from perspex rods.

Lined up in neat rows around the enormous red China pavilion, they feel like expensive baubles cast in tribute to the Communist party in return for access to the world's largest market.

The site, down by the banks of the Huangpu river in the centre of Shanghai, has been laid out with some wit. China has put its pavilion, the towering Oriental Crown, where it has always seen itself, and where others are now beginning to see it: at the centre of the world. By law, no pavilion was allowed to eclipse it in height.

Meanwhile, the country's two biggest rivals, the United States and Japan, have seen their pavilions exiled to the very far end of the site, which measures more than 1,000 football pitches in size.

By the time visitors reached the US pavilion on Saturday, their feet were aching and they had little appetite for a three-hour queue. The 70 million or so visitors that the Expo is expecting will be overwhelmingly Chinese and perhaps someone is hoping that most of them decide to skip the ordeal. "We wanted to go to the US pavilion, but we gave up," said Chen Lili, a 73-year-old pensioner.

To the north of the Chinese pavilion lies "Axis of Evil" square, lined with pavilions from North Korea, Iran and Burma.

posted by Brian B. at 3:31 PM on May 1, 2010


I think some of the outrage of the author comes from what is hinted at in those blog postings. There aren't any accusations made, but there are definitely insinuations that the individuals mostly responsible for the US pavilion used the opportunity to line their own pockets and those of their friends. It alleges that a lot of the decisions about who would be involved in the design process were made in back room deals without any oversight.

The author implies that better and cheaper alternatives were presented by people with experience in these types of projects and these alternatives were rejected in a process that was not transparent.
posted by jefeweiss at 3:56 PM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The British Pavilion looks like a soft focused goatse waiting to outstretch "its wings"
Which is to say I don't think any of those pavillions are worthy of design awards.
posted by Fupped Duck at 5:31 PM on May 1, 2010


This is what I come to MetaFilter for.

Personality conflicts with the expat business community and an underwhelming design hamper fundraising efforts in Shanghai, itself.

If you're ever in the running to manage a project that requires cooperation within an expat community to be successful, my advice is to cancel the engagement, burn all documents mentioning you in connection with it, and go to ground in Mexico for at least a decade.
posted by No-sword at 6:06 PM on May 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Uh, they're expecting 70 million in Shanghai.

I've even heard as high as 100 million. However, you guys likely have no idea how big a deal this is in China. They've spent more than they did for the Olympics. Everyone in China has been talking about this for a couple of years. When my parents came for a visit from the US, they asked why Gumby was everywhere and this question: "There's a World Expo?" Of the 70-100 million visitors expect in Shanghai, the estimates are that fully 95% will be from China. My Chinese friends in Nanjing cannot fathom that Americans don't even know what the Expo is.... I've been following ShanghaiScrap's coverage from some time, and while I appreciate the doggedness with which he's pursuing the story, I'm not convinced that it's a very big deal.

Which part of "mammoth gray steel" was supposed to represent sustainability?

Indeed. In fact, people in China and outside of China have raised the concern about the entire Expo's dedication to sustainability. While the advertisements around the Shanghai location claim that by using green air conditioning technology, the Expo is doing the equivalent of planting 4 million trees, many are concerned about the environmental impact of razing an area, building 5 square kilometers of new buildings (or however big it is), and then tearing it down 6 months later. I swear I just read a collection of Chinese internet users' opinions about this subject but I lost the link. The most recent discussion I can find is this.
posted by msbrauer at 6:21 PM on May 1, 2010


I've even heard as high as 100 million. However, you guys likely have no idea how big a deal this is in China. They've spent more than they did for the Olympics.

Just as a balance to that, though, I'd point out that the government is very good at massive displays, on-message PR, and the use of state-centered nationalism (i.e. advancing 'the interests of the nation' insofar as they are identical to the interests of the state). All of these things encourage them to build something huge that looks good on TV, and claim a big PR victory -- much like the Beijing Olympics, which had attendance issues (the way I read between the lines with regards to those numbers is that Olympic organizers claimed the sale of unsold tickets so that they could 'sell out' the whole Games, even though there were no fans for those seats) and whose long-term impact on Beijing isn't really clear (although the new subways are great).

There's kind of a left-over skillset from the 50s-80s: start a big mass movement through the media, make huge claims about its definite success, use inventive math in inflating results, and instead of taking careful responsibility for what actually happened, start another big mass movement. It works -- for some things, but ensuring 70 million visitors isn't necessarily one of them.
posted by Valet at 7:20 PM on May 1, 2010


Yes, the World Fairs used to be quite a big deal. I was overwhelmed at the pavilions and the multi-ethnic people viewing at age 12 at the 1964 NYC World's Fair.

Expo '67, in Montreal, was fucking incredible. All sorts of multimedia (especially film-centered) pavilions. The USA pavilion had a monorail snaking in and out of a giant geodesic dome. The Candian pavilion had a great 360 degree film. The best was the Czechoslovakian pavilion, where they had an enchanting combination of film and live action....it's hard to describe. The Soviet exhibition was laughable. Ivan and his great tractor! We stood in long lines, but as a kid, that was no big deal.

The Montreal exhibit was much more multi-ethnic, whereas the NYC fair was more corporate in nature. Anyway, it's a pity the U.S. can't spare some of the money they spend on their Empire to put up a decent building at a worldwide event.
posted by kozad at 7:27 PM on May 1, 2010


I was in China recently, and the hype about the Expo was huge. Especially in Shanghai, of course, but everywhere else I went as well. There's got to be a difference between Expos in places like Germany or Japan, where most people are rich enough to travel by themselves, and an Expo in China where there are hundreds of millions of people who can't afford to take an international flight but can pay for a train to Shanghai to look at things from the rest of the world there.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:35 PM on May 1, 2010


ThatCanadianGirl wrote: "The American pavilion looks like a corporate office building in an industrial park. What an odd choice."

It's probably at least the most honest of the bunch.
posted by wierdo at 4:50 AM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was also at the '86 Vancouver expo, as an 8 year old (and driven in the back of a pick-up truck from Santa Cruz, which I'm not even going into). I spent the whole time obsessed with the roller coaster, which I just discovered was called the Scream Machine. On the last day we were there my parents finally let me ride it, and holy fucking shit those were the 2 most terrifying minutes I have ever experienced. So I feel like Expos are where you go to nearly die of fright.

That British thing looks really cool though.
posted by grapesaresour at 5:53 PM on May 2, 2010


I think some of the outrage of the author comes from what is hinted at in those blog postings. There aren't any accusations made, but there are definitely insinuations that the individuals mostly responsible for the US pavilion used the opportunity to line their own pockets and those of their friends. It alleges that a lot of the decisions about who would be involved in the design process were made in back room deals without any oversight.
There's an update today with a breakdown of some of the figures; the implication is that large sums of money (in the millions of dollars) have gone missing or have at minimum been spectacularly wasted.
posted by Abiezer at 2:03 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


corruption in major events and exhibitions (Indian news at 11)
posted by infini at 2:38 AM on May 3, 2010


I liked that the Chinese offered us some of our cash back without interest to build it.
posted by tommasz at 11:39 AM on May 3, 2010


Meanwhile, back in Expo 70 in Osaka – "one of the very few embodiments of major technical and architectural innovation that was also built quickly and inexpensively".
posted by tellurian at 4:47 PM on May 3, 2010




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