Urban Cascadia goes to China

A Vancouver, BC architect will represent the USA at the Shanghai expo.
Crosscut archive image.

Architect's sketch of U.S. Pavilion for Expo 2010

A Vancouver, BC architect will represent the USA at the Shanghai expo.

Vancouver, BC has been a model of modern city planning, envied and emulated from the Middle East to South Lake Union. Now, one of the Canadian city's most prominent architects will be representing the USA in urban design at Expo 2010 in Shanghai by designing America's official pavilion.

Expo-watcher Judith Rubin has the most detailed look yet at what the what the USA Pavilion project will look like. The designer is expo and architecture vet Clive Grout who, Rubin writes, "cut his teeth" designing pavilions for Expo '86, a fair that helped transform old Vancouver into modern Vancouver. (It was also the last world's fair to be hosted in North America; both Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta are interested in hosting an expo in 2017 or 2018, the next possibility for a fair on this continent.) For a quick backgrounder on Grout, scroll down and see the bio here.

The Shanghai fair's theme will be building better cities, and Grout says the USA pavilion will be recyclable or reusable. It will feature a tree-filled courtyard, a rooftop fruit and vegetable garden, and otherwise be "a model for high-density, low-rise development in our cities."

Normally at large international expos (and Shanghai promises to be the biggest in history), national pavilions make high-profile, high-tech architectural statements. But both because of time and budget constraints, and also philosophical considerations, Grout's USA Pavilion will be sustainably low-tech. The rooftop garden is a symbol of the approach, Rubin reports:

"Increasingly, cities in the future will use roof spaces this way," says Grout. "We feel that it produces a very strong statement." This low-tech aspect of green building will set the USAP building a little apart from buildings that depend more on technical and mechanical features such as photovoltaics and wind generation. "We're doing those as well," says Grout, "but for me the signature statement for this pavilion is the entrance through a very intense green urban courtyard and an urban agriculture rooftop."

The landscaping will reflect the wide variety of climate and terrain in the US. "On one side of the building we've created basically a rainwater-fed wetland, which will be irrigated by runoff from the roof," says Grout. There will also be areas to represent grasslands, conifer forests, mountainous areas, and shorelines. "This is part of how we think we'll be building cities in the future," says Grout. "In addition to how we design the buildings themselves, we will also design the space between buildings to be kept in a sustainable manner. I think it will be a unique, distinctive message for the fair that in our cities will become standard practice. It may be surprising we're taking that approach from a nation that is so high tech. You can't have sustainability without nature and in cities we can and must have nature as part of our habitats."

Recyclable pavilions are not new at expos, nor the idea of vertically layering gardens and green spaces. Two that immediately leap to mind are the Japanese and The Netherlands Pavilions at Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany, a "green" expo where the USA was a no-show. The Japan pavilion was made of recycled cardboard tubing, and the Dutch featured a conceptual structure of vertically stacked ecosystems — a kind of high-rise landscape development, if you will. The Expo 2005 site in Aichi, Japan was itself recycled into a nature park, and world's fair sites have also been examples of adaptive re-use, notably Seattle Center.

Nevertheless, the integration of nature into our cities is something Cascadian cities are known for, and some of those concepts will now have a worldwide audience in China next year, in the heart of one of the world's largest, most dense, and fastest-growing cities.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.