The amazing "Seed Cathedral" – too much symbolism, not enough practicality?

The "Seed Cathedral" is the main attraction at the UK Pavillion at this year’s Shanghai Expo. The building’s out layer is made of over 60,000 slender, transparent quills, each quill with different types of seeds in it from the Kew Millenium Seed Bank Project.

This "Seed Cathedral" seems to be garnering rave reviews from both the US and China. With Chinese netizens exclaiming "I must go see it!" and "Beautiful!" BLDGBLOG saying, "it is one of the coolest architectural constructions I’ve seen in a long time," and the NYT calling the building "extraordinary and unconventional."

However, I noticed that not all characterizations are really positive – with it being compared to a pin cushion, a hedgehog, a dandelion, etc. Also, I noticed that comments from this article from the Daily Mail seems to show a different sentiment from Britons.

Some of the best rated comments:

Be interesting to see how it will be kept clean!

– Paul, East Yorkshire

What exactly does this say about Britain and its People? Apart from the fact that we are mugs who can be conned into paying so much for something like this piece of worthless tat, that is!

– Nonsuch, Anytown , England, 22/2/2010 15:39

Yet another waste of taxpayers money. I hope all the people supporting this venture won’t start moaning when their taxes rise even higher to pay for it.

– Cynical, Bridgwater England, 22/2/2010 14:37

1) in six months time or less it will be absolutely filthy 2) I wouldn’t want to be any where near it after a year or two… those rods will go brittle and start breaking off… 3) haven’t they learned from his last disaster?

– Paul Cooke, Gloucester England, 22/2/2010 13:13

WHY???????????????????????? We IMPORT just about everything from China as we sold off most of our industry to please misguided Labour dogma about a global economy! How many old or sick people would that have helped!

– PALLADIN, Scotland, 22/2/2010 18:07

Remind me never to go skydiving near that.

– Andy, London, 21/2/2010 13:44

All those pointy bits could hurt someone. Quick, call ‘elf and safety!!!

– DD, Devon, UK, 21/2/2010 13:46

For anyone that questions how we spend our money in general, I would beg you to check out this information visual from David McCandless.

The architect, Thomas Heatherwick, says on the Shanghai Expo website, "There is nothing in the world with more potential than a seed." And when asked what else is there to see in the "cathedral" besides seeds, Heatherwick says "Is 60,000 seeds not enough?" Here is an interview from CCTV with Heatherwick, the introduction is in Chinese, but you can see Heatherwick himself talking about his philosophy behind the "Seed Cathedral":

Personally, I think the Seed Cathedral is all symbolism and not quite enough practicality. I do hope more architecture in the future is postmodern and metaphorical like this, but that this style can be achieved with more eco-friendly and efficient methods. The way the Shanghai Expo is being presented right now seems like the epitome of luxury, extravagance, and waste that the world could probably do without in a time of economic recession. Is there a way that we can proudly display our world’s heritages and cultures without spending so much money? Can these artistic fixtures be created so that they have a long-term use after this temporal international runway show?

A good example might be the Arcosanti project in the Arizona desert, its goal being to "demonstrating ways to improve urban conditions and lessen our destructive impact on the earth."

More photos (from The Big Picture)

From the Guardian:

  1. EXPO buildings are just plain weird. Nothing new about that. I like the looks of this out though, quite mesmerizing and original.

    Btw in my native country there is quite the stir regarding the EXPO since some harebrained politicians decided it would be a great idea to yank our famous statue of the little mermaid (from fellow Dane Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale) out of the water in Copenhagen and ship it to our pavilion in Shanghai. To most Danes it’s the equivalent of sending the Eiffel Tower on a tour of the US or shipping all of the terracotta warriors off to England so they can get a better look of them.

    1. I would agree that some architectual structures can be quite mesmorizing if you allow yourself to perceive the relevance of these objects in other terms than their usual common functionality. Still I think the comparison of the Eiffel tower with your little mermaid falls a bit short. What are you saying, just like buildings some sculptures should permantly remain where they are – regardless of their size, unless they are severable?

        1. The Greeks would say so [that national treasures remain in place], given that the “Elgon Marbles” yanked from the famed Parthenon are now displayed in the British Museum. Or perhaps we should think of the zodiacal sculptures from the once-burnt remains of the summer palace….

          But you are right. There is a more complex question here, about whether such treasures should and could be shared throughout the world, and under what conditions. Personally I can see both sides of the argument, having benefited from a traveling exhibition of Egyptian treasures, and having seen the Elgon marbles in the British Museum as well as the denuded ruins of the Parthenon. There’s not an easy answer, especially when the people whose country birthed such treasures cannot easily see those things because they reside in a far off museum or are deprived of the tourist revenues that would result from having them reside at home.

          1. (correction) “as well as having seen the denuded…”

            Wouldn’t want to give the impression that the marbles have ever returned to Greece when they haven’t.

  2. waist of seeds. shanghai expo is pretty much a waist good area they reclaimed. couldn’t they have funded something more like schools and sichuan, rebuilding Lhasa I dont know something other than another great show for whitey to lose his mind over. I predict 1 time uses for these buildings. Like the olympics, now shells for tourist to gawk at. Pay 50 RMB to walk around in an giant metal nest that could at any minute collapse.

    1. 1) Most of the visitors to the expo will be Chinese. For the most part “Whitey” won’t be arriving in significant numbers to visit the Expo. This has noting to do with a dislike of China; it’s because aside from the city hosting it pretty much nobody cares about the Expo. To the point where this year the Yanks had to be near begged by the Chinese into building a pavilion, absent a last minute plea they’d have sat this one out.

      2) It’s the Expo. By definition pretty much all the buildings are intended for 1 time use. After 6 months the Expo will be over, the majority of the structures will be torn down, and new expensive apartment blocks will go up instead- without the muss of having to displace existing residents from some prime riverfront real estate.

      1. My point exactly, waist of reclaimed area. So they are going to destroy these buildings that took some real time and real money to build apartment people they displaced can’t afford to buy? Well china has that kind of money to throw around they should consider the rest of the thriving pop that keeps the machine running.

        1. You seem to be misinformed: the building costs (£25million) are being payed by British taxpayers and 5 corporote sponsors. It was organised by UK Trade & Investment, a government agency which promotes British companies abroad.
          It’s purpose is to present a dynamic view of Britain to the outside world and counter persistent Chinese perceptions of a Victorian-era UK. It hopes that updating Chinese preconceptions will attract foreign investors and students to Britain, as well as encourage exports between the two countries.

          1. Reinstating my 1st point, for whitey to lose his mind over, they wheel you in and then they fuck you proper. Next thing you know their is a big dispute over something and goes out of control by then China already got what they needed out of them and then give these guys options that they of course won’t like. Everything gets lopped sided in favor of China and the other party has to lay off fuckers on the other side of world.

  3. There isn’t anything wrong with this building really, Brits are just known to be some of the biggest whiners in the world.

  4. i would not take much stock in the readers of the daily mail, most of them a inbred hicks that would complain about anything.
    “in my day we use to do things better….”
    “there’s too many immigrants…”
    “the money could be better spent on the NHS…” (blackhole for money)
    “I should be allow to marry my sister….”
    that about covers all the issue Sun and daily mail reader have.

    1. yeah it does kind of look like those fury guard shack hats you guys wear in the winter.

  5. It’s a cool building. If the Brits don’t like it that just means it’s cool, because the Brit’s taste is up their ass.

  6. Take no notice of the UK ‘Daily Mail’ newspaper. It’s just a right-wing comic book paper aimed at the angry fear-filled middle-classes.

    Obviously, just like the Nazi party banned what they saw as ‘degenerate art’, most right-wingers think we should still be painting and sculpturing representationally, or else it means the artist is not talented enough to do so.

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