“IT WAS IMPORTANT THAT THE PAVILION BE QUINTESSENTIALLY AUSTRALIAN, THAT IT NOT BE TAKEN AS THE ARCHITECTURE OF ANY OTHER COUNTRY.”
1 Commissioning, procurement and delivery.
The project was commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who held an open competition for the pavilion. The construction, exhibition and technical operations were then publicly tendered in late 2008 and won by Bovis Lend Lease in collaboration with Think OTS. The time frame was the largest constraint on the project – construction began in January 2009 and the pavilion had to be complete by March 2010 for the public opening on 1 May.
2 The brief and the response.
The brief was to represent Australia through the built form of the pavilion. Our response was to design an abstract sculptural form that references the red centre of Australia, through both the shape of the building and the ochre tones of the weathering steel cladding. It was important that the pavilion be quintessentially Australian, that in the context of the World Expo it not be taken as the architecture of any other country.
3 Working across cultures.
We were fortunate to be working with Bovis Lend Lease China based in Shanghai. They had the experience required to avoid many of the pitfalls. However, a very collaborative process was still required with local subcontractors, engineers and design institutes. An important part of this working process was the submission of shop drawings, samples and mock-ups of nearly all the building components. As we did not have a permanent presence in Shanghai, it was very important to be highly communicative of what the desired outcomes were so that, between visits, the team was clear about the desired direction.
Early on, though, there was an endearing example of the importance of respect and honour in Chinese relationships. A Chinese package engineer had changed an exposed column from concrete to steel without our approval. He not only acknowledged that it was not acceptable to “change the architect’s idea” but also stated that he would resign from the company immediately for this grave error. We quickly assured him that this was not necessary, and we were sure that a steel column could be fine.
One thing that we couldn’t have planned for was the outbreak of swine flu right in the middle of the construction period. China’s reaction was highly cautious – flying into Shanghai and waiting on the tarmac for hours while a team of airport staff in hazmat suits with laser-guided thermometers decided whether you can disembark before being taken to a quarantined hotel for two weeks was not a fantastic experience.
4 What did you take away from the project?
Working overseas has been a very positive experience for us – using an Australian construction firm operating locally, the pace of construction and the standard of finish exceeded our expectations. Working in China was an interesting experience in having to adapt our approach to the local market capabilities. We found that labour-based solutions rather than product-based solutions were less problematic and also less expensive.
Architect Wood/Marsh Architecture.
Exhibition designer Think OTS.
Builder Bovis Lend Lease Projects Shanghai.
Facade engineer Aurecon.
Photography Peter Bennetts.