Photographer: Daniele Mattioli
Subject: Expo 2010 Shanghai China
When: April 2010
Camera: Nikon D700
Exposure: Shutter speed 1/4 second; f9
Amid Shanghai’s hustle and bustle sprouted the puffball top of a six-story “dandelion,” embraced by a halo of light. This was part of the United Kingdom Pavilion, a star attraction of the 2010 World Expo, which ended in October. The “puff” consisted of 60,000 transparent rods bristling from a timber core. Flexible on the structure’s outside, they undulated in the breeze, becoming rigid after passing into its wooden interior. By day, sun illuminated the rods, which were made of fiber-optic filaments; at night, LEDs created a hallowed glow. The scene above was taken from inside, where the 25-foot rods terminated—or rather, germinated: Those tiny patterns are actually seeds encapsulated in the tip of each rod.
In keeping with the Expo’s theme, “Better City, Better Life,” British architectural firm Heatherwick Studio designed the pavilion to make a connection between urban centers and nature. It drew inspiration from England’s history as the birthplace of one of the earliest public parks and from the country’s famous Kew Gardens. “[The pavilion] speaks to China’s own historical and traditional interest in the way the human world and the natural world need to live in harmony,” says Philip Dodd, a consultant on the project.
The “Seed Cathedral,” the official name of the floral structure, invited guests to reflect on nature and their place in it. “There was a spirituality there, and I’m not the spiritual type,” says photographer Daniele Mattioli. The silhouetted figure of a security guard adds dimension to the composition; his presence also alludes to humans’ reliance on the environment, and on seeds specifically, for both sustenance and mercantilism. “The future of mankind will depend on the diversity of plant life,” says Kew Gardens seed morphologist Wolfgang Stuppy, who also helped on the project.
China’s Kunming Institute of Botany, a partner in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project, gave more than a quarter-million seeds to the pavilion. The project’s mission: to collect seeds from 25 percent of the world’s plant species by 2020. Now that the Expo is over, the rods’ seeded ends will be disbursed like a dandelion’s puff among Chinese and British schools and possibly to botanical gardens “as a memory of the pavilion,” says Katerina Dionysopoulou, the project architect, “but also to educate people about seeds and a better life.” To see more of Mattioli’s photos, click here. —Julie Leibach
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