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Shanghai 2010: ‘Seed cathedral’ will not be sold says FCO

Thomas Heatherwick’s award-winning UK Pavilion for Expo 2010 Shanghai will not be rebuilt once it is dismantled, despite a host of interested buyers

The £26 million ‘seed cathedral’ will be taken down at the end of next month and its 60,000 acrylic spikes, each containing a seed, will be distributed to schools across China as part of a country-wide education project.

The project’s funder, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), confirmed it has turned down several expressions of interest in the popular Lubetkin Prize-winning structure after seeking ‘professional advice on the construction and legal angles’.

Former RIBA president Jack Pringle, who is behind a long-running campaign to resurrect the Skylon sculpture, which was removed at the end of the 1951 Festival of Britain, said: ‘To destroy Heatherwick’s pavilion on a jobsworth health and safety view is disappointing and unimaginative.

‘I’m sure there are buyers who would be prepared to take it on a caveat emptor basis and work with Heatherwick to see how its life can be extended.’

However, Hanif Kara of project engineer Adams Kara Taylor (see AJ 08.07.10) said: ‘The pavilion was designed to live for a short time, so what it’s made from and how it’s made are temporary.

‘To live beyond the close of the expo on 31 October, the specification’s technical considerations would have been very different and would have resulted in a different expression.’

Kara added: ‘If any of the potential buyers are indeed serious they would need to start from scratch, redesign and remake, and I doubt they have that in mind.’

Meanwhile, London’s Serpentine Gallery has confirmed that Jean Nouvel’s temporary summer pavilion is being sold. The gallery has found buyers for all 10 of its previous annual pavilions.

Other comments:

Paul Davis of Paul Davis + Partners said: ‘The pavilion is a piece of British brilliance and shows why our architects and engineers are admired around the world. How amazing would it be down by the London Eye or in Battersea Park where it could stand with space around it?

‘The shame of it is that the wider, general media (outside of the design press) has not given much coverage to a piece of design magic…it is so far ahead of the other pavilions in Shanghai.

‘While the FCO has promised the rods to the schools but couldn’t it sort out a copyright that would allow Heatherwick and AKT to reinvent the idea somewhere else?’

Joe Morris, co-founder of Duggan Morris said: ‘To buy and own the pavilion in its entirety misses the point somewhat.

‘There is a beautiful and poetic narrative emerging - designed in or purely co-incidental - whereby the seed rods become the seed pods of a late summer (perfectly timed) dandelion, dislodged and freed by the autumn winds, ready to germinate elsewhere.

‘In much the same way, distributing the rods throughout China, has the potential to be of far greater significance and impact, than the whole pavilion being re-erected in some Sheik’s backyard.’

‘Also, while I do not wholly support the idea of Expos, the pavilions are intended to be fleeting, ephemeral, captured moments of an idea. I doubt Heatherwick’s pavilion would be as was, if intended to last for a longer period of time. 

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