Canada’s Shanghai Expo 2010 architect is…Cirque du Soleil.

Seemingly impossible, but true. Similar to the way the statement “Arnold Schwarzenegger is Governor of California” is true. The Canadian Pavilion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai is to be designed by Cirque du Soleil’s in-house designer. This is someone without architectural training or larger architectural insight beyond interior stage set design – and kitschy set design at that. Not surprisingly, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada is underimpressed by this decision, and a multitude of others feel the same way. Just look at this thing! Read the whole Globe and Mail article here. This Harper Conservative government – which in its rightwingery, its bold, uninformed appropriation of responsibilities it is ill-equipped for, and its generally arbitrary approach to power is starting to look Sarah Palinish – doesn’t know anything about architecture, but it knows what it likes. Tra la! The design and arts sector in Canada is increasingly under siege by this type of government interference and stupidity, and it can either lie down and wait for its supplies to run out, or it can prepare for a big fight. From the Globe:

“A fully engaged architect might have referred in the design to the pavilion site located within an old industrial district on the Pudong side of the Huangpu River. But urban context matters not at all to creators of theatrics. Treating space as a stage set – one that comes with a VIP lounge affording views on the interior courtyard – is how the Cirque approaches architecture. That’s okay when you’re designing tents, but it’s hardly the way to communicate deep architectural insight.”

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12 Responses to “Canada’s Shanghai Expo 2010 architect is…Cirque du Soleil.”

  1. Tweets that mention Canada’s Shanghai Expo 2010 architect is…Cirque du Soleil. | ouno -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lindsay Brown, Gavin Froome. Gavin Froome said: Canada's Shanghai Expo 2010 architect is…Cirque du Soleil. (blog post) http://wp.me/pzHLN-232 (via @ounodesign) Harper is creepy. […]

  2. LB Says:

    A theatrical designer was unfortunately offended by this post, which was not its intent. The designer argued that a theatrical designer is a jack-of-all-trades – couturier, fabricator, scene builder, painter, architect – and can do anything, including designing buildings as well as an architect, if not better. This may be true, if you’re a Leonardo da Vinci, but not every jack-of-all-trades can be expected to be a master-of-all-trades. Theatrical designers deserve a huge amount of respect for their ingenuity and versatility and, on occasion, artistic brilliance. But it’s different work than architecture and the training isn’t identical. By definition it’s illusionist’s work, and the one thing a set designer is master of is marshaling all those skills with the final intent of producing the best possible illusion. There’s nothing wrong with an illusion; it depends on the context. I’d like to see less of it in Harper’s governing style, for instance. But apart from all that, if the Cirque du Soleil designer were really the best architectural designer of pavilions that Canada has to offer, then no doubt his bid would have won the commission when it was put out to competition – but that’s the problem. Amazingly, there was no competition. The job was awarded, patronage-style, by Harper’s Heritage Canada, whose commitment to the arts in Canada is, well, interesting at the moment. This is not to say the work of Canadian architects isn’t often disappointing and underwhelming, but I can think of many who could do far, far better than this awful, lazy pavilion. In their sleep. Theatrical design does not train for many things required of an architect, including sensitivity to surrounding architectural context among many other things. This was a huge international project and countries use these events to promote their best specialists in their field, to elevate them to higher international profile. This Cirque du Soleil designer has never been and never will be considered a great architect, and has no buildings under his belt that have been widely lauded publicly. We’re going to be laughed at for this, for many reasons. Proof of this flawed process is in the pudding. And it’s a bad pudding.

  3. Darren (aka Chimay Bleue) Says:

    I’m kinda speechless…

  4. I think I am offended | Kevin Lee Allen Design Blog Says:

    […] generally like the sensibility of Ouno Design, but I take exception to her comments in this post about the design of the Canadian Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010. She includes political, […]

  5. Kevin Lee Allen Says:

    LB–
    I’d like to start with where we agree and one disclaimer; I prefer not to address the politics of this issue. In general, I think governments do a poor job at arts administration. I do not think politics and the arts mix well.

    That said, I do agree that some type of competition was in order here. Perhaps with multiple stages so that at some point the work of the finalists could be properly funded or compensated. I do hate competitions where the work of artists goes unpaid.

    For the record, I consider architects to be artists.

    I also think that no-bid government contracts are an improper use of the people’s money.

    I should likely Google the design, but based on the image that you used, I do not find the results to be spectacular structure. That does not mean that the experience might not be amazing. In the end, I think I would prefer an amazing experience in a non-descript structure than an amazing architectural sculpture that did not create enthusiasm about the subject; Canada.

    I do not believe that only architects can design buildings.

    As a set designer, I have also studied architecture and urban planning. I would have taken the context of the site into consideration when developing the design. I am sure that many of my colleagues would have done the same.

    If there had been a competition, perhaps other artists; painters, sculptors and the like might have entered. In any case architects and engineers would need to be involved in the final design. It is in that type of collaboration that theatricals can and should excel.

    Collaboration is the essence of our art. Creating temporal experiences is what we do.

    So while I think we can agree that this process is flawed, I hope that you would be open to buildings designed by non-architects and the possibility that the visitors’ experiences in the pavilion might be amazing.

    I have not been to Cirque in a good long while. I went to some of the first tours that visited New York City. The shows I saw were amongst the most amazing theatrical experiences or any experiences I have ever had. Cirque is now ubiquitous, I hope the artistic integrity remains the same. If it has Canada will kick some butt in Shanghai.

  6. Kevin Lee Allen Says:

    for the record, most of ‘design’ I see associated with this expo are unexceptional, at best.

  7. LB Says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I too don’t think every building has to be architect-designed, and collaboration is great as well, except where it operates as design by committee, which can produce very poor results. As so often happens. But I think architecture in Canada needs a chance to promote itself. Cirque du Soleil is a highly commercial venture that doesn’t need this exposure. And I’d add that pavilions are not just about their interiors – judgements are made about them based on the exterior’s message and quality. And of course when architecture is good, the interior and exterior are in meaningful dialogue with each other. And I should say from the outset that I am personally not a fan of Cirque du Soleil’s aesthetics, with their inevitable emphasis on spectacle, theatricality, exaggeration – I mean, they’re a circus. I would have preferred the building to speak for itself. But mine may be a minority opinion, both here and in this entire blog. I am not sure what “kicking butt” is but when I think of success internationally, including at informed levels and not just populist appeal, this is not what I think of. I would be very open to seeing examples that support your arguments – critically acclaimed Cirque du Soleil sets, say, and better non-architect-designed buildings than this one.

    54 million dollars!

    PS It’s true, many of the other designs are also poor. When I compare this to the architecture of Expo 67… what has happened?

  8. Kevin Lee Allen Says:

    I agree design by committee is NOT collaboration. “By committee” anything, is usually bad by definition.

    54 million dollars??? Wow.

    “Kicking Butt” is an American slang for a positive result.

    Expo 67 was amazing. I might have a book, I know I have some links to images. I know I have a contemporaneous book on the NYC 64-65 Fairs. I am particularly enamored of the period rendering style, seems to be acrylic paint and no airbrushing.

    All of the renderings of designs that I saw for Shanghai seemed to be in the rendering technique that I use when I have all flash and no substance.

    Perhaps there is a root issue in what the organizers sought? Only the Danish Pavilion seems to have any sense of space or composition. Even there it is minimal.

    I don’t see any reference to a US Pavilion?

  9. LB Says:

    The entries certainly all look recessionary… or something. Not very inspiring. And yet they all cost upwards of $29m, many of them much higher than that (I see the Saudis boasted that they have no upper limit for their building budget). This may be the direction of Expos now, less about showing off architecture and more about a sort of flashy commercial look. My favourite is probably Hong Kong’s. But now that I see them all, I think the days of Expos as architectural showcases are probably over.

    I was teasing about “kicking butt.” I don’t see design in fighting terms. I was going to say this is because “I’m Canadian” but I think we’ve about lost our reputation for pacifism by now, considering our troops’ behaviour in Afghanistan.

    I don’t see a Danish pavilion (did you mean Belgian?) but I do see a US pavilion.

  10. LB Says:

    Hannover Expo 2000 – Then and Now
    Interesting Flickr set:
    http://www.flickr.com/groups/expo2000/

  11. Darren (aka Chimay Bleue) Says:

    There are some entries that are clearly more inspired than others. Unfortunately, the US and Canadian pavilions are amongst the least interesting, from an architectural standpoint.

    There’s been a law in the US since 1991 that government funds cannot go towards building expo pavilions, and that meant that there almost wasn’t going to be a US pavilion in Shanghai at all this year. It’s only been in the past six months or so that any serious corporate sponsorship has come forward. That would have been a major embarrassment for the US (but also perhaps very telling from a historical perspective about the USA’s place in the world today, when taken in the context of previous World’s Fairs, such as NY, Chicago, Montreal, and Paris…). Anyway, our US entry looks like two boats next to each other at odd angles, and is about as inspired or innovative as any mid-sized company headquarters building in a suburban office park. There was another, far more interesting entry by Frank Gehry (not that I’m a huge Gehry fan…), but they had no funding stream so that one wasn’t chosen.

    There is a Danish pavilion, by the way. The Saudi entry is among the most innovative and inspiring, I think. Also the UK’s building – a “Seed Cathedral” of clear rods in the form of a cube that also mirrors the Union Jack, due to how the building is viewed with the angle of the rods.

  12. LB Says:

    Thanks, Darren! I didn’t know most of that. I’m almost in favour of non-participation in these expos unless the architecture is intended to be a) good and b) permanent. Considering the global environmental crisis and increasing waste of resources, these temporary multimillion dollar buildings seem like a profligate waste – and all for what’s really just a trade fair and international boasting competition. I couldn’t see the Danish one but I see it now – and I too liked the Saudi one. The British one as well was okay. The Canadian and US pavilions, though, are pronouncedly bad.

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