UK Pavilion for Shanghai World Expo 2010 / Heatherwick Studio

© Daniele Mattioli

When we featured the first renders of the UK back on August, 2009, many readers doubt that Heatherwick Studio’s design could be done (or at least look like the renders). The Shanghai World Expo 2010 has started and the UK Pavilion has become a favorite to many of you. Now you can see the complete projects.

More images, plans and architect’s description after the break.

© Daniele Mattioli

The UK Pavilion has been designed by Heatherwick Studio. Led by the internationally-acclaimed Thomas Heatherwick, his design team won the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) commission to create the Pavilion following a competition that attracted a shortlist of ambitious architectural proposals from other teams led by Zaha Hadid Architects, John McAslan + Partners, Marks Barfield Architects, Avery Associates, and DRAW Architects with dcmstudios.

Heatherwick Studio’s initial design strategy for the UK Pavilion established three aims to meet the FCO’s key expectation that the pavilion should become one of the five most popular attractions at the Expo. The first aim was to design a pavilion whose architecture was a direct manifestation of what it was exhibiting. The second idea was to ensure a significant area of open public space around it so visitors could relax and choose either to enter the pavilion building, or see it clearly from a calm, non-queuing vantage point. And thirdly, it would be unique among the hundreds of other competing pavilions, events and programmes.

© Daniele Mattioli

Heatherwick Studio sought an approach that would engage meaningfully with Shanghai Expo’s theme, Better City, Better Life, and stand out from the anticipated trend for technology driven pavilions, filled with audio-visual content on screens, projections and speakers.

In collaboration with a wider project team, the studio developed the idea of the UK Pavilion exploring the relationship between nature and cities. Rather than creating a conventional advertisement for the UK, this was a subject that could make a real contribution to the Expo’s theme; London is the greenest city of its size in the world, the UK pioneered the world’s first ever public park and the world’s first major botanical institution, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

From here came Heatherwick’s idea of involving Kew Gardens’ Millennium Seedbank whose mission is to collect the seeds of 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020.
The design process evolved to produce two interlinked and experiential elements: an architecturally iconic Seed Cathedral, and a multi-layered landscape treatment of the 6,000m2 site.

© Daniele Mattioli

The Seed Cathedral sits in the centre of the UK Pavilion’s site, 20 metres in height, formed from 60,000 slender transparent fibre optic rods, each 7.5 metres long and each encasing one or more seeds at its tip. During the day, they draw daylight inwards to illuminate the interior. At night, light sources inside each rod allow the whole structure to glow. As the wind moves past, the building and its optic “hairs” gently move to create a dynamic effect.

Heatherwick previously experimented with texture and architecture at a much smaller scale with his Sitooterie projects. The Seed Cathedral is the ultimate development of this.
Inside the darkened inner sanctum of the Seed Cathedral, the tips of the fibre optic filaments form an apparently hovering galaxy of slim vitrines containing a vast array of embedded seeds. The seeds have been sourced from ’s Kunming Institute of Botany, a partner in Kew Royal Botanic Gardens’ Millennium Seed Bank Project. Visitors will pass through this tranquil, contemplative space, surrounded by the tens of thousands of points of light illuminating the seeds.

These fibre optic filaments are particularly responsive to external light conditions so that the unseen movement of clouds above the Seed Cathedral are experienced internally as a fluctuating luminosity. The studio’s intention is to create an atmosphere of reverence around this formidable collection of the world’s botanical resources; a moment of personal introspection in a powerful silent space.

The Seed Cathedral is made from a steel and timber composite structure pierced by 60,000 fibre optic filaments, 20mm square in section, which pass through aluminium sleeves. The holes in the 1 metre thick wood diaphragm structure forming the visitor space inside the Seed Cathedral were drilled with great geometric accuracy to ensure precise placement of the aluminium sleeves through which the optic fibre filaments are inserted. This was achieved using 3D computer modelling data, fed into a computer controlled milling machine.

This accuracy ensures that the Seed Cathedral’s fibre optic array creates an apparent halo around the high structure, with the fibre optic filaments rippling and changing texture and reflectivity in the gentlest wind. The wavering external surfaces of the Seed Cathedral form a delicate connection between the ground and the sky.

Among the Expo’s sea of hard surfaces, the Seed Cathedral’s surrounding landscape is conceived to act as a continuation of the building’s texture. A special artificial grass surface has been uniquely developed to act as a welcoming and restful public space for Expo visitors. Beneath the Seed Cathedral and the landscaped surface area is a canopied and naturally ventilated entrance and exit sequence for the Seed Cathedral. This circulation zone, running along three edges of the site, contains a narrative of three innovative environmental installations designed by London-based design studio, Troika. They are: Green City, Open City, and Living City.

Below the circulation zone is a further layer of spaces which can be used for cultural and commercial events hosted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and is available to hire by other organisations throughout the duration of the Expo.

The creation of the extraordinary and complex Seed Cathedral structure and the landscape architecture was achieved through close collaboration between construction managers Mace, lead engineers Adams Kara Taylor, services engineers Atelier Ten and highly skilled Chinese engineers and contractors. In order to reduce unnecessary transportation, 75% of the materials for the UK Pavilion have been sourced from within a radius of 300km around Shanghai. It is also the British government’s intention that most of the materials of the UK Pavilion will be reused or recycled at the end of the Expo.

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office believe that the Seed Cathedral and UK Pavilion site will prove to be one of the Shanghai Expo’s star attractions. Even before the start of the Shanghai Expo, that belief already has some substance; ever since Heatherwick Studio’s design was first publicised in Shanghai in 2009, along with the scores of other national pavilion designs, it has been consistently ranked in the top five in terms of public popularity, and the Seed Cathedral has already been nick-named Pu Gong Ying, translated as ‘The Dandelion’ by the Chinese public.

After the Expo just as dandelion seeds are blown away and disperse on the breeze, the Seed Cathedral’s 60,000 optic hairs, each one containing the huge potential of life, will be distributed across China and the UK to hundreds of schools as a special legacy of the UK Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo.

Cite: Jordana, Sebastian. "UK Pavilion for Shanghai World Expo 2010 / Heatherwick Studio" 03 May 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 30 May 2015. <>
  • jimbo

    awesome! the best one at the show!

  • Xin

    hardly you will find architecture like this, which will you make judge “heavenly”….

    also great, that uk went with heatherwick, instead of the old known suspects, such as foster, hadid, rogers, make , hopkins, etc… unfortunately, this kind of magical moment is missing in the designs for london 2012. maybe, they should bring back home this pavillion for then…

    (btw – i haven’t heard or seen anything about a u.s. pavillion – aren’t they represented at the expo, or are they so bad?!)

    • i2h

      its bad.

      • Milan

        Very bad!

      • Bad bad

        very, very bad

      • Jonjon

        The worst at the show, looks like a mall…

    • plots

      it’s an embarrassment to architecture in the states. The never ending problem with the US pavilion is that it is not financed at all by the government but it still must be approved by the government before it can go online. In short first you have to design it, then find a 3rd party sponsor willing to pay for it, and after you have everything setup you get to submit it and see if they’ll accept it or not.

      This basically means our pavilion is rubbish eternally because no architect can afford to find funding for, and design, a pavilion that, after all that work, may or may not even be approved for construction.

  • Scozia

    Very representative of the kind of architecture you would never see built in the UK.

    • Clemente

      this can either mean it’s good and/or bad

  • alex

    petition to get it installed in kew gardens after anyone?

  • H. Roark

    Hmm I cant get excited about this at all. A rehash of one of his previous projects with allot more money!

  • o

    The interior is fantastic, the exterior is something seen before, but the interior totally makes up for that. In terms of keeping it I wonder about its long term ability to be weather resistant with so many punctures in the skin.

  • alex

    hmm i find it really hard not to get excited by this. one of the most innovative buildings in the show; and it photographs so, so well.

  • rsantosfernandes

    This more than Architecture, it´s an Experience!
    The best in Show!
    But it´s an obvious well made upgrade of his Project Sitooterie II in Essex UK.

  • simonmeek

    The UK pavilion in Shanghai for the World Expo is really pretty wonderful:

  • up_today_arch

    This is invention, new step! I like it so mach. Here is not building realised, but the image of building realased.

  • squidly

    Is this the first building without a surface? The entry is a bit clumsy but otherwise a well thought out project. Its wonderful.

  • edub

    This building is obviously popular because of the pure spectacle of it; it is not necessarily a great piece of “architecture”, but it still appeals to people because of it’s sense of amazement it instills… “what is THAT”?.. “how’d they DO that?”… “Wow, looks just like a rendering”, etc.

    As much as I enjoy looking at these pictures, and wish I could see it in person, I can’t help but feeling that this is a one-trick pony that is stealing the show.

    The whole concept, born out of the notion of preserving the seeds of plants for the future, seems lost in the overall excitement. I think this building would be exactly as popular, had it NOT had any seeds in each of the spikes. Is there any way to identify each plant species?… what does this teach us about the seeds?… the whole concept just seems like an afterthought – how can we justify this crazy building, and make it seem like it has a purpose? The worst part is that seeds are encased in a light conducing rod… not exactly how you want to preserve seeds (they like the dark).

    • Leonardo Ximenes

      Very cute critique. I too turned my guns toward almost anything when I was an arch student, specially when it was something most ppl voiced in a different direction. In time you’ll learn to filter your opinions through a more accurate funnel, and it won’t hurt to recognize greatness.

      • edub

        I do not take your comments personal, and I’m flattered by your attention.

        I’m not sure which funnel you suggest that I use, but I find that it is your comments that lack direction. What about my critique do you object to? Please address my concerns about the purpose of the seeds, and we can continue this discussion, if you would like.

    • Leonardo Ximenes

      @ edub:
      After your reply, I realized how arrogant I sounded, I apologize.
      This is a truly innovative space. I engages the sense of tact for the first time in architecture since Gaudi, and with a material that truly represents our times: optic fiber. Whereas all the others are using windows and its variations, this pavilion draws light to the inside in a magical new way. There aren’t many architects out there who have such an imaginative approach. The seeds concept is also in line with our times of ‘open text’, (see Umberto Eco’s thesis on the subject) seeds being something accepting of so many interpretations. And seeds don’t ‘like’ darkness, except to germinate. A seed can stay latent under harsh conditions for years, that’s why plants can be spread through extensive areas by birds etc.

    • filippinho

      You’re absolutely right, the whole story about the seeds and Britains “great ecological achievements” sounds very constructed.
      I still like the building though, it’s simply a cool idea.

  • YC

    This UK Pavilion is very meaningful; natural, soft,and flexible which I never seen. “Dandelion” would fly when wind is coming through, that is, I’m curious in its structure and construction. Gorgeous and brilliant idea!!

  • Fred

    Best one I’ve seen so far!
    Very innovative.

  • Josh adorescats

    It is a copy of the Czech pavilion from Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan


  • H. Roark

    Josh, you might find that, that Czech pavilion is in fact borrowing heavily from Heatherwick’s “Sitooterie”.,_Barnards_Farm,_West_Horndon.jpg

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  • Josh adores cats
  • jw

    this is an incredible piece. such a bold structure, but delicate in its detailing. easily one of the best at the shanghai expo. i have admired heatherwick’s designs and thinking for many years now— always brilliant work.

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  • Maximus Clarke

    RT @burnlab Breathtaking new photos of Heatherwick's beautiful & bizarre Seed Cathedral

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  • shetu

    brilliant idea

  • benjamin

    has anyone noticed that in the exterior, with the lights and shadows in the optic hairs, you can hardly see the union jack(british flag)? its very interesting to see that kind of representative detail, in such a unique structure.

  • oneOFall

    One of the moust beautiful and consistive objects in last 50 years. From exterior to enterior. BRAVO!

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