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UK Pavilion at Shanghai Expo wins prestigious prize

UK Pavilion has won Royal Institute of British Architects’ Lubetkin Prize

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The UK Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010 has scooped the prestigious RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects’) Lubetkin Prize for the most outstanding work of architecture outside the European Union by a RIBA member.

The stunning Pavilion, one of the visitors’ favourites at the Expo, was designed by Heatherwick Studio, built by Mace and was chosen to represent the UK at Expo by a panel which included the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as the lead Government department.

The award marks two months of success for the Pavilion - with two million visitors flocking to see it, and many visits from international figures such as Chinese and international politicians, global business leaders and celebrities.

The Seed Cathedral sits in the centre of the UK Pavilion’s site, 20 metres in height, formed from 60,000 slender transparent rods, each 7.5 metres long and each encasing one or more seeds at its tip. During the day, the rods act as optic fibres and 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. The seeds have been sourced from China’s Kunming Institute of Botany, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership.

Jeremy Browne, Minister for the Expo at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said:

“It is outstanding that the UK Pavilion has won the RIBA Lubetkin Prize. It is an amazing building which has shown the world the modern, creative and innovative face of the UK. I am very pleased to see the Pavilion recognised in this way.”

Thomas Heatherwick, designer of the UK Pavilion, said:

“It has been an honour to represent the UK at the largest ever world Expo. From conception to completion, this has been an extraordinary project for the studio and the whole project team. It is an incredible source of pride for everybody involved to have received such a prestigious award.”

Accepting the award, Chief Executive of UK Trade & Investment Sir Andew Cahn said:

“It’s a huge pleasure to be here for the award to Thomas Heatherwick of the prestigious RIBA Lubetkin prize. Thomas has asked me to say a few words, as the client for the project in the Foreign Office.

“What was the clients’ brief? We wanted to change perceptions of Britain amongst the coming generation of Chinese; away from their old image of us, as a land of swirling fog and cobblestones, old buildings and old attitudes. We wanted them to understand contemporary Britain, the home of creative industries and artistic talent.

“We certainly got what we asked for. We had a competition. The jury chose Thomas Heatherwick’s extraordinary design. It was no contest in terms of architectural excitement.

“But there was an issue for us; because we knew it was risky. Could it be built? Would costs explode? Would it be attacked as “all show and no content”? Would the Chinese even like it?

“We took the risk, which we reduced by having advisors like Sir John Sorrell and Sir Mark Jones. We put effective project discipline in place, led by Simon Featherstone, the director of the project. But it still felt as if we were walking on the wild side.

“Working with Thomas and Katerina turned out to be a great experience. I won’t pretend that there were no tensions. Of course there were. But they turned out to be creative ones.

“I want to pay tribute to Thomas’ inventiveness and vision. He manages to be able to dream and to be a practical man at the same time. And the Chinese do like our pavilion; they really do. They have nicknamed it “Pu-gong-ying” - the dandelion clock. They have taken it to heart as the iconic image of the Expo.

“Our Pavilion has been receiving over 50,000 visitors a day. Already more than two million people have been amazed by the interior of the Seed Cathedral, others have used the wrapping paper for its intended purpose - to relax in the middle of one of the world’s busiest urban spaces, captivated by the British Council’s street entertainment.

“Tens of millions more have seen it online after an enormously successful digital campaign. And it is known around the world. Over 30% of all the stories about the Expo have a picture or a reference to our Pavilion, more than any other nation’s. So the UK’s reputation around the world has been burnished by the pavilion. How about that for meeting the client’s wishes.

“And the end of the story? At some stage, the building will be dismantled. The acrylic rods, each with its seed from the Kew Gardens’ partner, Kunming Botanic Gardens, will be given out to schools across China, to keep alive the memory of this wonderful building.

“The Foreign Office is proud to have been responsible for the realisation of this remarkable project. Congratulations to Thomas, to Katerina and the whole Heatherwick team.”

The UK Pavilion has also been nominated for a British Construction Industry award, which will be announced in October.

Updates to this page

Published 29 June 2010