15 November 2009

Three Pavilions at Shanghai Expo 2010

Nick Winslow
This article originally appeared in the 2010 TEA Annual And Directory, published by the Themed Entertainment Association.

Three Pavilions at Shanghai Expo 2010
by Judith Rubin

The USA Pavilion: Triumph against the Odds
With the authorization of the US Federal government, Nick Winslow and his team are heading up the official USA participation in Shanghai Expo 2010. What that means, exactly, is a complete, soup-to-nuts endeavor, encompassing fundraising, project management, planning, design, production, construction, staffing, operations and, finally, disposal of the building after closing day.

Winslow is a seasoned consultant whose experience includes seven years with Warner Bros. Recreation Enterprises and 11 years with Harrison Price Company (now retired, Price was a leading economic analyst whose credits include feasibility studies for many world expo pavilions). In this venture, Winslow and his partner, attorney Ellen Eliasoph, have achieved the near-impossible, and the most impossible task was the first: getting the funds. Most countries that participate in world expos allocate some government funds toward the project. The US does not – a law passed not too many years ago effectively prevents the Fed from making such expenditures. Any group trying to mount a US expo pavilion finds itself in a Catch-22 situation: it's hard to raise the money if you don't have the official nod from the government, and the nod is hard to get if you haven't demonstrated you can get the money. It goes without saying that all this was made doubly difficult by the recession. All members of Winslow's team have been active in sponsorship transactions, notably Norm Elder and Jim Garber in the US, and Felix Wong and Dan Whitaker in China. “It's an event for the ages and I'm glad we're there,” said Winslow.


Winslow and Eliasoph persisted and prevailed, aided by significant support and votes of confidence from important voices within the US government, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US Ambassador Elizabeth Frawley Bagley and the Office of Public-Private Partnerships, and Kris Balderston, Clinton's former chief of staff during her Senate years. Winslow's team raced against time and a recession to raise enough of the pavilion's $61 million budget to enable the project to reach the official groundbreaking on July 17. The pavilion's Oct 14 “topping off” ceremony marked completion of its superstructure – placement of the last steel beam. At the ceremony, the U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, and the Deputy Secretary General of Shanghai Municipal Government and Director General of the Shanghai World Expo Coordination Bureau, Hong Hao, joined hands and drew Chinese calligraphy together on a vertical beam of the steel structure.

“We're going to make it,” Winslow said when we spoke in late September 09. He had just returned from a pre-opening meeting in Shanghai of the Expo's international participants and commissioner generals. He was in Washington, DC, preparing for a meeting with the US Department of State to finalize the content for the visitor experience, in order to begin media production. “Secretary Clinton made the expo an important part of her agenda for China,” noted Winslow. “The whole state department team was also very helpful. From the beginning, the Chinese were incredibly helpful. They told everyone how important us participation in the expo is, and thankfully people in Washington listened. They've given us wonderful support. That's what has inspired America's corporate leadership to support this in a significant way.”

On July 1, Secretary Clinton named Jose Villareal as Commissioner General of the USA Pavilion. Mark Germyn, an operations and financial expert with a background in major theme parks and international mega-events, was recently appointed COO. “We're beginning to staff up,” noted Winslow. “The commissioner general is the head of the delegation for the pavilion, and reps his or her country to the Expo governing authority. My job as president/CEO is to build and operate the pavilion. Ellen has been writing all the contracts, using her very substantial contacts in China, and her law firm has given her a huge amount of latitude to work on this project.”

Winslow describes the pavilion's business model as “the essence of public-private partnership - officially we loan the pavilion to the state department for the six months of the expo.” Asked what changes he'd like to see regarding future US participation in expos, based on his current experience, Winslow shared these opinions. “We should reestablish our position as a member of the BIE [the BIE is the Paris-based treaty organization that oversees world expos, and the US let its BIE membership lapse several years ago]. We should get rid of the law that prevents the Fed from using allocated funds to build the pavilions. And we should set aside responsibility, whether to the Department of State, or the Department of Commerce, to oversee US participation. Give them a little bit of funding so we can have proper design competitions three or four years in advance to put together concepts and help with fund-raising. I really do like these public-private partnerships, but it would be a whole lot easier if there was some existing money in the pot. That's not the process we have now, however, and we have taken it the way it is - and proved it can still be done! I was originally just going to make this a chapter in the book I will write one day, but this is going to deserve a tome of its own.”

Winslow has found working in China an exhilarating experience. “The expo organizers have done an excellent job of opening the channels of communication to share technical and operations information that exhibitors need and get their questions answered. They understand the enormity of what they're trying to do. With 192 countries and 45 NGOs participating, as they say it's 'a lot of stuff.'” He observed that “China today seems to me to be a young person's society. You go around Shanghai particularly, and see this huge surge of population that occurred after the Cultural Revolution. They are the people changing the country. They are aggressive and upbeat. They see where China is going, and are anxious to be part of it. There's also a huge number of foreign-born younger people there to make their mark. Now we're hoping we can get the word out to the American public to see this thing. It's going to be a great show.”

Anyone wishing to inquire about joining or supporting the USAP effort should begin at the official website, http://www.usapavilion2010.com.

USA Pavilion's green design
USA Pavilion architect Clive Grout of Vancouver-based Clive Grout Architect cut his expo teeth working on seven different pavilions at Vancouver Expo 86. Bob Rogers was designer on three of those pavilions. His company, BRC Imagination Arts (Burbank) is designing the exhibits for the USAP.

Rogers' career was effectively launched by the work he did in Vancouver, which included the “Spirit Lodge” show at the General Motors Pavilion, and the “Rainbow Wars” film for the British Columbia Pavilion. His company has since designed and produced something like 20 expo pavilions altogether as well as numerous well-known attractions for museums and theme parks, including the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois and Shuttle Launch Experience at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Grout went on to head the firm Architectura, and one of his influential design triumphs with that company was a remarkable expansion of Vancouver International Airport, which, in its configuration, choice of materials and selection of public art, celebrated and evoked the beauty, unique terrain and cultural identity of the region much like a good world's fair pavilion. “We started this with Nick when he was trying to put the USAP together, knowing it was an uphill battle,” says Grout. “It's more than just a job.” Grout has been working very closely with BRC's designers to integrate their requirements for the pavilion guest experience into the show spaces Grout and his associates have roughed out.

Grout's pavilion design and BRC's guest experience will develop the expo's “Better Cities, Better Life” theme to envision and celebrate the sustainable cities of the future. The building's entrance and initial queuing area will be Grout's tree-filled “urban courtyard.” The trees will be accompanied by a waterfall, generated by a rainwater-fed pool. The landscaping will reflect the wide variety of climate and terrain in the US.

Inside the building, some 2,500 visitors per hour will be pulsed through the multimedia (“4D”) guest experience, which will relate, wordlessly, a story through the sensibilities of a Chinese-American woman living in the year 2030. As the story goes, this protagonist had been a visitor to the Shanghai expo in 2010, and her life as portrayed in 2030 reflects the “Better Cities” catalyst of the expo 20 years earlier – valuing teamwork, celebrating ethnic diversity and marking the accomplishments of the Chinese-American community. Post-show exhibits will portray the seeds of change and sustainability that will help lead the world to the “Better Life” of 2030.

Urban agriculture – a fruit and vegetable garden on the roof – will be a significant feature of the building. Some of the produce will be used for catering the VIP lounge. This low-tech aspect of greenbuilding will set the USAP building a little apart from buildings that depend more on technical and mechanical features such as photovoltaics and wind generation, although, notes Grout, “We're doing those as well.”

The two wings of the building symbolize the wings of an eagle. The structure is temporary on the expo site – after closing day, it will either be relocated and re-used, or dismantled and recycled. Materials and methods were chosen to facilitate this. The steel structure is bolted together rather than welded. The skin is of aluminum panels. The building's spaces are large and open. Grout emphasized that simplicity was important to fulfilling the vision and the message. “We have not felt the need to do an architectural handstand to get attention.”

The USAP guest experience – entertaining everybody at once
Bob Rogers
“In earlier decades, expos were the world's way of communicating - the only way for Westerners could, for instance, see South Sea islanders weaving leaves into thatch roofs, without going to the South Seas,” notes Rogers. “Over time, the expo has instead become a fabulous vehicle of regional economic promotion. Whereas the Beijing Olympics were the coming out party - China announcing its presence to the world – the Shanghai expo is going to be China announcing the connection of the world to itself. For many people within China, this is going to be a definitive identity shaping moment - a realization about its relationship to the outside world.”

Effective world's fair pavilion design requires divining the true nature of both the public and private audience and accommodating both with the best show in town. In terms of the public, world expos welcome an international audience and many foreign visitors will pass through the gates of Shanghai 2010. All the same, the bulk of attendance at any world's fair comes from the host country and the largest portion from within a 150-mile radius of the host city. “The host learns as well as teaches,” remarked Rogers. “The vast majority of the attendees of expos will be Chinese. It will be an announcement to China of who China is.”

The private or VIP experience is equally important. While the public are on the main floor, “there is a huge business-to-business and government-to-government interaction happening upstairs,” noted Rogers. “If you've got an extremely popular pavilion, others want to trade favors with you. Corporate sponsors of the USA Pavilion, for instance, will be approached by VIPs seeking access.” It is a corporate rep's dream scenario. “You've got tickets to the most popular show and the window is limited,” explained Rogers. “The potential clients call you up and qualify themselves in the course of requesting access to your pavilion, and you host them in your VIP lounge before taking them through the show. It's very conducive to building relationships. You've got two simultaneous worlds of critical relationship building: one is a game of huge numbers - the millions of general public going through - and the other one is small numbers – the VIPs.”

How does one go about producing the best show in town? “You've got to have some real information and present it in way that just charms the socks off them – a combination of scholarship, showmanship, and salesmanship that dazzles. You have to know the audience better than the client knows them,” said Rogers, whom TEA recently honored with the Thea Award for Lifetime Achievement. Understanding the special nature of an expo audience is vital. “It's about the last general audience left,” explained Rogers. “We divide ourselves into niche audiences more and more. But an expo has got everybody - the kind of audience that in the US in the 1950s were all watching the big three networks together. In many ways we've forgotten how to entertain everybody at once.

A Look at Two Corporate Pavilions
China Mobile & China Telecom
“In the near future, everything is going to be talking to everything. You'll walk down the street and you'll be hearing from your shoelace that it isn't tied,” said Bob Rogers, whose company, BRC Imagination Arts, is designing the guest experience for the corporate pavilion jointly sponsored by China Mobile & China Telecom at Shanghai Expo 2010. “Your media player is going to be able to call your home cooling unit and tell it to lower the temperature. The stuff is going to start talking to the stuff. Conversations will be between people and people, people and things, things and things, and that connectivity will be transformational.”

At this writing, Rogers was not able to divulge many details about the show content, however he was able to convey that the building is vast and the show interactive. “This is going to be a very exciting pavilion, and I daresay we will have more screens in our theaters there, than any pavilion show ever. It's going to be colossal. It's got a mixture of scale and intimacy, of big and small, that I don't think we've seen before.” The pavilion will have a capacity of 2,000 an hour, in which visitors will spend about 12 minutes per area for a one-hour guest experience, and, Rogers said, the VIP area will be “incredible.”

As befits the sponsors, the guest experience will celebrate and explore the role of the handheld electronic device. “All this stuff is all folding into this one thing in your hand and how small can it get?” said Rogers. “The experience in the pavilion will take that and use it and it'll be a lot of fun.” There will be illusion. “In one space you'll walk in thinking you're looking at one thing and find you're looking at something else.” And there will be simulation. “We will tease the visitor's equilibrium with the illusion of a thrill factor.”

State Grid Pavilion
Big-screen media experiences have been a hallmark of world expos since Montreal 67, and the latest eye-popping, visitor immersing models will be astounding visitors at Shanghai Expo 2010. World's fairs are a laboratory and international showcase for experimentation on many fronts including architecture, media and entertainment, and without a doubt Shanghai's best innovations will plant seeds in the minds of today's Experience Designers – potent seeds that will grow into concepts for future permanent attractions. The show produced by ECA2 for the State Grid Pavilion, which will feature what are said to be the largest LED screens ever built, could scatter a few such seeds.

State Grid is in the business of building and operating electric power grids in China, working toward the goal of establishing a secure, modern and reliable statewide supply. As a global partner of Expo 2010, State Grid will have a pavilion with a multimedia show conceived, designed and produced by ECA2, a French company well known for its media spectacles and productions at world's fairs, Olympics and major sports events, theme parks and mega-celebrations.

For 10 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the six months of the expo, visitors will experience Le Voyage de l’Energie, which Pépin has described as an “immersive experience of multimedia art in 720 degrees.” It will use six LED screens to surround the visitor with images of energy in motion. At 350 visitors per four-minute show, ECA2 estimates the pavilion will host a total of some 5 million visitors. Concept designers are Yves Pépin and Sophie Poirier. Artistic director is Moïra Smith and producer is ECA2.