Is the US Pavilion the very worst in the Shanghai Expo?


It's competing with the Romanian. God, what a sorry state American architecture is in if this is the best we can muster.

It looks like something done by NBBJ back in 1995, except more corporate.

Opinions (about the pavilion, or about why American architecture is so badly represented)?


Apr 24, 10 2:43 pm
le bossman

well it's a lot better than most of the architecture in the completely rediculous shanghai skyline, which looks like something from sim city 2. besides, i wouldn't say it represents a sorry state of american architecture. americans have designed a great many fantastic buildings in china lately, probably more than the chinese. we just don't have a tradition of caring about these expos. i'm suprised there was even an american submission, and besides, this is the first i've heard of any shanghai expo.

Apr 24, 10 3:15 pm

Germany wins.

Apr 24, 10 3:25 pm

The american pavilion is fitting to architecture, as practiced in america. Sure, american designers have done quite a lot of good architecture in china, but as a pavilion, this is fitting for a country whose architecture is dominated by large corporations, the AIA, NCARB and a other acronym firms.


Apr 24, 10 3:28 pm

Saudi Arabia wins worst in show because of the palm trees on top with the tent. Though the US is close with its bland approach.

Apr 24, 10 3:35 pm
Distant Unicorn

I think the Russian Pavillion is the best... but everyone over looks Russia, anyways.

Apr 24, 10 3:38 pm

Most of the corporate pavilions are terrible...forget the countries

Apr 24, 10 3:55 pm

From these photos, the British and Russian ones seem most intriguing. The Spanish pavilion is quite interesting too. I maintain that the US is the worst one - for a 'first world' country with so many resources, both cultural, and fiscal - it is the worst. I hope no one visits it.

Apr 24, 10 4:03 pm

I think US Pavilion is great, reflects a global trend and irrelevant state of architecture as shown by all other wanna be pavillions. Right on! Perfect! Way to go USA.., tell them the way it is!
Let's get some business contracts signed.

Apr 24, 10 4:09 pm

of course the ironic thing about the pavilion is that it is designed by a canadian.... dude doesn't even really have a website.....

Apr 24, 10 4:10 pm
le bossman

i don't know how this sort of thing is paid for, but i would assume that the different levels of design quality for the pavillions has something to do with funding, and that whoever the usa representative is didn't generate a lot of interest in doing something like this. i doubt designing something like this is a very lucrative opportunity.

Apr 24, 10 4:27 pm
Cherith Cutestory

The USA pavilion is rather bland... I could think of a number of US architects that could have done something a bit more imaginative. Although if you were to take the architecture of the US and average it out, I would imagine it would look pretty much like that pavilion so maybe they aren't too far off.

But I do have to agree that the Saudi pavilion is pretty tacky. It looks like an enlarged planter from an Orange County mall. The Thai pavilion would also rank towards the bottom just because it seems so generic.

There is something about the Australian pavilion I totally love. It really fits.

Apr 24, 10 4:41 pm
chatter of clouds

the saudi arabian design:

hoho, made by china for saudi to be in china to represent saudi
i do NOT fall for "collaboration between saudi and chinese architects" ... sorry, but i know how things typically work out there...

and the rendering of the so called "moon boat" (ummm..saudi is not exactly famous for its boats) looks pretty, although i think the rendered design's achilles heel are the columns which never lend up looking as they do in a warped perspective.
but the actual resultant thing looks far looks like the boat crashed into a pile of rocks. very matte, whereas the rendering shows it to be sleeker and all shiny happy pavillion. and that skirting carpet like fringe looks yuk...and the trees and tent look more pathetic than they do in the rendering.

Apr 24, 10 5:01 pm
chatter of clouds


Positioned at the West Expo Gate in the Americas zone, the USA Pavilion will cover a span of 6,000 square meters (60,000 square feet) and will be one of the largest Pavilions at the Expo. Scheduled for completion in March 2010, the Pavilion is expected to be one of the most visited pavilions with up to 60 million Chinese visitors plus 10 million international visitors over a period of six months.

In line with the Expo theme of “Better City, Better Life,” this smart urban structure was designed by Clive Grout, an architect with World Expo experience. The architectural design of the US Pavilion also reflects the underlying theme of the USA Pavilion where guests will be given a glimpse of an American city of the future celebrating the success of “Rising to the Challenges” by providing clean energy, green spaces, clean water and rooftop gardens. In addition, state of the art technical features are implemented to ensure energy efficiency while highlighting the sustainability message of the Expo.

The USA Pavilion will introduce nature to its compact, low-rise, urban scale development by including sustainable elements which will contribute to greener urban future. For example, it will feature uniquely-designed waterfall and reflecting pool that cools the entrance area while masking sounds, and urban-planning foliage that add to the heat cooling effect, while contributing to a clean air habitat. The waterfall will use only recycled water. The USA Pavilion will also feature roof terraces with an urban vegetable garden that is modeled after Michelle Obama’s garden at the White House. The green roof technology will allow for additional heat cooling effect and slow release of rain-water runoff .

Thematically, the bold and simple shape of the USA Pavilion shadows that of an eagle with open wings, a creature that is uninhibited by boundaries. It also serves as the national emblem for America, a country that offers limitless opportunities. Beyond the expression of opportunity, the eagle has been designed with its wings open as a gesture to welcome guests into the Pavilion.

this is architectural digest material. the pretense that a trend that has been around since the end of the last century constitutes the only futuristic aspirations for the american city of the future. and michelle obama's gardens?
i tell you, american architecture is predominantly boring because they are afraid to offend themselves and their masses. michelle obama's garden forms the pinnacle of your, you americans, achievements as a family-centred society ---- that also allows nearly anyone to carry a gun, throws people out of their homes, actively denies them medical insurance , encourages them to eat carcinogenic, fatty, sugary and salty foods...etc. EAGLE. what a load of rubbish. if the architects want to get all literal...why not design it in the shape of a fat miserable diabetic unemployed woman with a couple of stoned fatherless children and a short life to live.

Apr 24, 10 5:22 pm
Bob Jacobson

The US Pavilion cost over $65 million, which puts it in the top quartile of pavilions. (The Canadian Pavilion by comparison cost $28 million. The excellent Danish Pavilion was in that lower cost range, also.)

The US Pavilion was designed by Canadian Grout, but redesigned by an anonymous "Chinese design institute" in late 2008 when the producers selected by the US State Department -- in a potentially illegal, closed process -- were destitute and literally resigned. The Shanghai Consulate bailed them out, but reduced the price of the proposed pavilion from $85 million to $61 million and had the Chinese do the simplifications.

The most significant features of what has now been labeled by the locals as the "US Shopping Mall" are indeed its mall-like theater and fast-food court. The 8-minute feature film and videos that constitute its content reportedly cost 1/3 the price of the US Pavilion, or $20 million-plus. That's Hollywood for you.

Very little thought has been given to the pavilion's post-Expo disposition. It's not exactly earth-friendly, so what is being attempted is its outright sale to a Chinese community that wants it for a US-styled shopping center. I kid you not. So in addition to fast-food obesity and treacly entertainment, the US via its pavilion is exporting shopping mall-based urban design. So much for the Expo's theme, "Better City, Better Life."

William Bostwick in Fast Company has mapped the history of the declining quality of US participation in Expos over the years. His grapical article, "Exporting Architecture: The Rise and Fall of US World Expo Pavilions," February 24, 2010,, makes one tear up remembering how wonderful US pavilion architecture was in the past, at substantially less cost outright and to the taxpayers.

No surprise. This same scenario, albeit on a smaller scale, first occurred five years ago at the 2005 Aichi Expo in Japan. Its theme was "Nature's Wisdom. The US for that event extorted $20 million from the Japanese hosts and built a maudlin pavilion based on another feature film about, of all things, Benjamin Franklin. We lately always miss our mark, it seems.

This would all be very funny, the basis for a Producers-like musical comedy perhaps, except that the American taxpayer, through copious tax deductions granted to the US Pavilion organizers and the 60 or so corporate contributors who constitute the entire population of "involved Americans" -- including such paragons of sustainability as Cargill, Monsanto, Yum! (KFC, Taco Bell), PepsiCo, Boeing, and AT&T -- are footing the bill.

Ultimately, this was a policy decision. The Bush Administration, happy with Aichi, decided not to ask Congress for an appropriation to make the US Pavilion a public enterprise with all the usual accompanying competitions and oversight. Then Obama Administration then executed on this policy with its usual aplomb, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself doing the arm-twisting and blandishment-offering needed to get the corporations onboard.

What you will not see in the US Pavilion is anything remotely resembling or representing sustainability, community life, political reform, or frankly, a better life. Architects will naturally focus on the objective disappointment that is the US Pavilion. They should broaden their perspective. Consider this fair warning about the consequences of "Blackwatering" public diplomacy, outsourcing it to the highest bidders who then of course call the shots in the name, but not with the participation, of the American people. This is our new national policy, after all. Check out Hillary's Global Partnership Initiative: US overseas diplomacy is basically up for sale.

You can read more about this on Atlantic correspondent Adam Minter's now famous blog, Shanghai Scrap, and in a scathing investigative article he published in Foreign Policy, "A Sorry Spectacle: How the US Blew It at the Shanghai Expo," March 8, 2010, Adam's been trying his best to see the silver lining in the US effort, but it defeats him every time.

Adam's most recent take on the US Pavilion's fast food court, "“We got yer pizza …” American cuisine well-represented at Expo 2010," April 23, 2010, would be hysterical if it wasn't so sad. In our name, corporate sponsors are promoting their junk food to the Chinese, who need expensive, health-threatening food like a hole in the head. These sponsors stand to make as much as fifty-million dollars for this embarrassment, only one of many behind the boring cladding that the architects rightly denounce.

Apr 24, 10 5:38 pm

Is that Alucobond on the US Pavilion?

The NZ pavilion looks promising, but I dont know if it is built yet...

Apr 24, 10 7:00 pm

...maybe in the "best of" list, it is, but overall, I've seen worse...

Apr 24, 10 7:25 pm

cripes - those are all awful (all except the british pavilion -go heatherwick on that one). where are the equivalents of the ando pavilion from the late 90's? the siza pavilion from sevile? the zumthor from hannover? the blur building? hell, even the f-ed up mvrdv pavilion was better than any of these.

bad, bad, and more bad.

Apr 24, 10 7:36 pm
de Architectura

I'm confused - Where's the architecture?

Apr 24, 10 8:04 pm
won and done williams

i thought australia, chile, and canada were aesthetically the best of the lot. as a representation of the current state of architecture, i think it's pretty accurate - a lot of sculptural computer-driven forms, some somewhat divorced from construction, others taking on their digital fabrication as a challenge.

i found arturius's post intriguing. if the american pavilion is simply an exportation of america inc., i wish it could have at least been a bit smarter. i don't really have a problem with shopping malls and fast food, but if you are going to put that show on the road, you can at least put it into a more compelling wrapper to sell the idea.

Apr 24, 10 8:23 pm
Bob Jacobson

Dear jafidler,

I disagree. If you're going to sell a shopping mall and fast food, don't embellish or stylize them. Sell them as they are. This structure does that well. The fried sandwiches on the illuminated signs are particularly fetching.

On the other hand, the theme of the Expo is "Better City, Better Life." Even a token bow to that goal would have been appreciated by the hosts and other exhibitors, I'm sure. This is exactly NOT that.

However, there is a feature at the Expo that will be of interest besides which pavilion is trickiest, most clever, or recyclable. It's the Forum of Innovative Cities and features fifty smaller exhibits by 50 cities selected in an international competition as most in tune with "Better City, Better Life." For me, besides the China Pavilion and the overall ambience, that would be a required highlight.

Apr 24, 10 8:34 pm
won and done williams

i don't necessarily mean stylize them. i mean what do you get when you mash up "better city, better life" with a shopping mall and fast food? you're never going to take the shopping mall or the fast food out of america, but there would seem to be possibilities beyond the generic corporate box that maybe, just maybe, are compatible with "better city, better life." i think a better architect at least could have made a more compelling statement about corporate america, even for corporate america.

Apr 24, 10 8:43 pm

canada? lol. its designed by cirque de soleil for pity's sake. i am a great fan of the quebecois group, but merde on a stick that has to be a joke of some sort, doesn't it?

britain's pavilion is amazing. spain also intriguing, the rest not so interesting.

someone asked where is the ando pavilion of the 90's? its rebuilt here as part of the chinese portion of the expo. i couldn't say if it was intentional for certain, but the resemblance is uncanny.

Apr 24, 10 8:43 pm

Maybe team USA was too focused on scoring LEED points.

Apr 24, 10 9:42 pm
Distant Unicorn

architecture sucks.

Apr 24, 10 9:44 pm

wow, what the fuck? is this seriously our pavilion? fucking embarassing.

Apr 24, 10 9:50 pm
Cherith Cutestory

I just read it's going to have a KFC and Pizza Hut. Nice. Although wouldn't McDonald's be a more "American" choice?

Apr 24, 10 10:13 pm
Distant Unicorn

Technically, hamburger is a Roman invention.

In my opinion, an expo pavilion should theoretically show two things-- a cultural link present within the architecture of the building that shows a relationship between culture and aesthetics and a display of the status of technology of the given place it represents.

Given those two criteria, I think some of the pavilions are pretty successful in their own designs.

That was why Russia was my favorite-- it demonstrates Russia's continued support of high-density compact living, it ties the ornamentation of the building to the culture and it shows Russia's willingness to experiment and accept Western culture.

I think the US' pavilion is successful in that interpretation-- banal, trite with a side of fries and brainwashing. I mean... have you seen the commentary on it?

"The USA Pavilion will introduce nature to its compact, low-rise, [strike]urban scale[/strike] development..."

I mean... if you consider parking lots as actual developed real estate... then the US is a compact environment! But really? Really?

That's cultural imperialism at its finest. Watch our propaganda, eat out food, live the fantasy, accept democracy... blah, blah blah. There's nothing absolutely wrong with living in a giant office park because it is made from recycled Coke bottles. It's essentially the Peace Corps with an aggressive accounts receivable department.

I think Thailand's (even with it's pseudo-Disney facade) is pretty successful. It's a massive building for a relatively poor country to needlessly build. And it seems painstakingly true to life in Thailand even down to the window details.

I think France and Spain show a little bit of their own character too. England is... well, England. Not really a fan of Germany, Switzerland or Japan-- it's like a giant "LOOK WHAT I CAN DO?".

Apr 24, 10 10:47 pm
Distant Unicorn

Another juicy tidbit from the US expo website:

"For example, it will feature uniquely-designed waterfall and reflecting pool that cools the entrance area while masking sounds, and urban-planning foliage that add to the heat cooling effect, while contributing to a clean air habitat."


I'm imagining trees that sit around and bicker at one another about tax forecasts, building setbacks and Andre Duany.

All the planning trees look down on the permitting bushes with a feverish dislike. And everyone is growing away from the architect vines. The strips of mulch seperating each plant is like a greenbelt of NIMBYism that ties this urban planning garden together.

Apr 24, 10 10:53 pm

expo is about the future... i think the pavilion is best represent US future^^

Apr 24, 10 11:00 pm

if ur the greatest debtor and u attend a party organised by ur creditors, its best to dress like shit especially when u have no intention to pay back or want to borrow more^^

Apr 24, 10 11:02 pm
le bossman

it definitely isn't impressive, but looking at the rendering on the usa pavilion site, the expo people picked about the worst possible photograph to represent it with.

Apr 25, 10 12:02 am

I realized what our pavilion is, almost exactly: a car dealership. Not GM, but something like Audi. From 1997. It says, I'm fast, I'm metallic, I'm not that smart and I'm not that weird.

Apr 25, 10 12:17 am
I'm not that smart and I'm not that weird.

I like this a lot. And by "like" I mean the painful truth of it makes me smile through the tears.

Apr 25, 10 1:03 am
le bossman

well, whatever. unfortunately it's a shitty project. but i don't think it really represents any sort of state of architecture in the usa at all. maybe in some small way it represents the state of how our gov't works.

Apr 25, 10 1:13 am

bossman, it represents a class A office park. Which sadly is most new architecture in the US

Apr 25, 10 3:34 am

how come no one question about the idea of expo? it started out when ppl get to know the latest technology through pavilion... now we have tv, radio, blog, facebook, forrm, chatroom, archinect, twitter...

tell me what technology represented at expo that u don't know? may be the US pavilion isn't so bad after all, cos it reflects the reality of pavilion being obsolete.

Apr 25, 10 5:05 am

I donno - if you're going to use this event as an excuse to denigrate American architecture then - if you're being honest - I think you really have to extend that criticism to include the state of world architecture - the vast majority of the designs are crap, IMO.

I think this collection of really bad structures says way more about the organizers of this expo (presumably the Chinese) than it does about 'the state of architecture' anywhere in the world.

Apr 25, 10 7:19 am

To join those playing devil's advocate, it strikes me that while the US pavilion may be among the least interesting architecturally, it also may be the most useful functionally.

Sounds like it will get the most foot traffic, probably infuse the most money into the local economy, and will ultimately be re-purposed from temporary exhibition structure into long-term marketplace.

Though, if you're asking me purely in terms of photo-ready aesthetic impact, the British pavilion is stunning.

Apr 25, 10 7:59 am

More on the British pavilion, including interior:

As I expected, a totally beautiful wankfest. In many ways the exact opposite of the US pavilion.

Apr 25, 10 8:07 am
le bossman

well i suppose it all depends on where you work and live. i don't live among the office parks, and i don't work on them. in general, i try to avoid suburbia altogether.

Apr 25, 10 11:04 am
Bob Jacobson

Here's a whole repository of information about the US Pavilion and its origins. I created it just after the current team had resigned the engagement in Oct 2008.

It seemed then that the new Obama Administration would correct the abuses of the Bush Administration, so we started working on building public support via Facebook.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration only proved to be a better administrator of the Bush policy of outsourcing the US Pavilion, attracting corporate owners, and deflecting or defeating public interest. Hillary herself raised the funding needed to build this dinosaur.

The Facebook Page became a chronicle of the slow-motion, then sped-up train wreck that is the current US Pavilion.

Apr 25, 10 11:15 am


I'm not intending to denigrate American architecture. I'm trying to get architects to acknowledge the difficulties of producing good and innovative* work in the US.

I've worked for many clients in the US. The majority of them have a complete lack of vision. Their basic way of approaching architecture is through "nostalgia"--if they've seen it before, it's good; if they haven't, it's bad. Thus the ubiquitous Spanish-mission-provencal-drug-cartel-stucco-mini-Versaille-mcmansion that has littered so many suburbs.

This has gotten worse, to my mind, as the country has become more conservative. Conservatives' entire approach to life is to not rock the boat and not change what we've already got: "to stand athwart history yelling 'stop!'" in William Buckley's famous phrase.

The lack of innovation that we see right now in American music, architecture, art, etc, versus the persistent innovation in Europe and Asia, seem to me a bigger problem than anyone has yet admitted.

The two corrosive values of nostalgia and corporatism have taken over the American arts, unfortunately. The American pavilion is corporatist in the extreme.

(*I believe innovation and goodness are interlinked. Others might not agree.)

Apr 25, 10 11:49 am
Bob Jacobson

The "lack of innovation" is an artifact of the particular politics of this situation. If you will take the time to read the accounts (the links are provided above in various postings, you will see that there was plenty of innovation proposed to the State Department for the US Pavilion, but deliberately not acted upon.

Apr 25, 10 11:52 am
Distant Unicorn

Farwest, I would say your argument is the exact reason hipsterism exists! If no one holds anything of cultural value to a sacred level, why shouldnt one be allowed to make fun of it or use the cultural idea as a disposable to void it of all monetary value?

If we were to allow each generic subculture of the US to design their own pavilion... I wonder what each of them would look like.

Apr 25, 10 12:30 pm

To those who are saying that "the notion of the pavillion is obselete, and hence this design makes sense", I say "In the age of media, architecture itself is obselete in the age of media, so just quit architecture - in the end it makes no sense, right?"

I think it would be more fruitful to go justify the turd you guys take every morning, than 'not designing, because the notion of design itself is passe'

"Sounds like it will get the most foot traffic, probably infuse the most money into the local economy, and will ultimately be re-purposed from temporary exhibition structure into long-term marketplace."

A 'long-term shithole' is more like it.

That also explains why most americans are completely okay with generic box-cities or Mc-Mansioned suburbs.

Apr 25, 10 1:29 pm

Arturius, That's exactly my point. It seems the US has "institutionalized" conformity and lack of innovation.

It's not that the innovating impulse doesn't exist. There are plenty of artists, architects, etc. who want to innovate. But the official mechanisms to do so seem not to be there....

Apr 25, 10 2:32 pm

I heard some of the corporate sponsors of the US pavilion are already working on tenant improvement plans and lease agreements for the pavilions next phase. Is this true?

Apr 25, 10 3:02 pm

Some mcmansions are pretty nice you have to admit

Apr 25, 10 11:03 pm

the metal cladding has to go. i'm thinking stucco would actually look amazing...something like a barragan or legoretta

Apr 25, 10 11:22 pm
Bob Jacobson

Farwest, it wasn't institutionalized. That gets everyone off the hook. There was deliberate malfeasance within the State Department and possible illegality in how the current group was selected to do the US Pavilion, and how they spent the money Clinton raised. I can assure you, had our team's proposal gone the distance -- we were the "last man standing" before the engagement was yanked away and sole-sourced -- our US Pavilion would have blown your mind.

Apr 25, 10 11:29 pm

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