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NZ Government architects under fire (again)…

By May 7, 20105 Comments

OK, Warren and Mahoney were only one of a number of practices from different disciplines involved in the New Zealand Shanghai Expo 2010 pavilion, and the rather blistering attack is not aimed at NZgovt’s favourite architectural practice alone, but there is certainly little holding-back in Byron’s critique over at the Productspec website).

I am little more circumspect about the whole expo-pavilion architectural typology, and am willing to accept its nature as a “3D powerpoint”, and as “an offensive exploitation of our cultural significance” – after all, that’s what expos are about, right? Same goes for cheesy Olympic opening ceremonies, and anywhere else where governments sponsor ‘creative’ renditions of nationalist foundation myths and cultural distinctiveness – Supreme Court anyone – this is in the same mold.

Anyway, along with the usual Maori kapa haka welcome, the lush fernery and boiling mud, this exhibition pavilion at least tries to present a broader picture of a “New Zealander” – one that includes a measure of suburban domesticity – acknowledging that we do live in cities (not the 100% pure wilderness). It might be a rather romantically sanitised vision that is presented (cue cute little girl etc.), but for me it is at least a start, which might well lead to a more mature vision of who we are as a people. Barry Crump is dead.

But I guess I should offer some comment about the building (here’s the obligatory digital flythrough)… can I just say that it has a good location in its favour, being close to China’s own pavilion (perhaps we do get some positive benefits from our FTA after all)… and that I am sure that it will be a popular and effective pavilion for the purpose it was designed for, and just leave it at that…?

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  • Guy says:

    What a fantastic, gutsy critique by Byron. That man never holds back does he… And as usual, he hits the nail right on the head. Yes, the Pavilion is a vacuous, piece of showmanship drivel, for the sole purpose of attracting Chinese tourist dollars, but then isn’t that is exactly what is called for? You want vacuous tourists? Design a vacuous tourist pavilion!

    Seems to me that there is another possibility here too. The much talked about Auckland Queens Wharf “party central” needs a vacuous building for the purpose of entertaining vacuous and beery tourists while they beerily watch video screens of ugly men running round a field, and beerily pinch the bums of the serving staff. What better thing to to combine the two, and when this Expo is over, ship the building back here, along with its plastic pohutukawa tree, and position it on the end of the wharf for all time?

    Then we could, as Byron says, whack golf balls off the roof and into the Hauraki golf. Which would be fun. And no less pointless than any other trite activity they have planned for the wharf…

  • pingu says:

    Well, if you think that the NZ pavilion is bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The US Pavilion “is a disgrace” according to :
    http://www.popsci.com.au/2010/05/the-usa-pavilion-is-a-disgrace/
    …an article published by John Mahoney (presumably no relation to Warren and Mahoney…). It goes:

    “Many of the pavilions at the 2010 Expo in Shanghai are phenomenal, both inside and out. The USA pavilion, however, is neither. But far worse than being visually unimpressive (which it is), the essence of our representation at the largest World’s Fair carries an even sadder message.

    I’ve been inside some pretty mind-blowing pavilions this week, which makes the failings of the USA’s–the world’s largest economy–even more shameful….”

  • Byron says:

    Guy, I would mostly agree with you there, cynically. I do however feel a bit caught between idealistic notions that these pavilions matter -or ‘could’ matter (look for example how Denmark created their hype through controversy), and that meaningful experiences should be the goal of these things… but I can equally imagine the outcomes of the expo being fairly token… some visitor numbers to help our PM pat himself on the back or something… There’s probably a more useful discussion to be had about the role of the World Expo these days. A century ago, and well into last century, they had implicit value in exporting cultural knowledge around the globe -Robin Skinner’s PhD on the representation of New Zealand(ers) in the 1840s through exhibition is a great example. The contemporary role is much more challenging given the extent of shared global knowledge and experience. I suppose (or hope) there are some useful and productive political outcomes from these events, but those can be pretty spurious.

  • Guy says:

    More than just ‘some’ visitor numbers – I’m not sure about the aim of the original World Fairs / Expos, but there seems little doubt that the main aim of us (NZ) attending this expo is to raise visitor numbers. China is a big country, with lots of middle class, who want a nice safe country to visit and have a wonderful ethnic visiting experience. Massive market there for NZ, as they all fly in to stroke a real live lamb, see a maori warrior do a carefully choreographed touristy haka, and take a shitload of photos of real live ponga and kiwis etc.

    Hence we’re spending $30 mill on this building, whereas the previous expo we only spent $5 or $10 mill. Key knows this is the market we have to break, and hence we have a very tourist focused building.

    What is interesting to me is what they do with the building afterwards. Traditionally, all expo buildings get torn down – it is a gross waste of resources – but hey, some of them are really not designed to last much longer. Of all the expo buildings ever built in the world, very few are still remaining. (Crystal Palace was left, but it burnt down, Mies’ Barcelona pavilion was demolished, but since rebuilt, and the British pavilion at the Seville expo in the early 90s? was saved, moved back to Britain, and is now a shopping centre in Birmingham or something.)