When you're the host country, you get to build the biggest pavilion. Every photo I've seen of China's Expo HQ doesn't do its incredible scale justice. See those little dots at the base? Those are people. John Mahoney

The primary draw at any World Expo is the architecture–almost every country in the world is here, and they all want to stand out. Match that desire with top-shelf architects and big government budgets, and some amazing things can happen. Without further ado, a photo guide to the best pavilions I’ve seen so far at Expo 2010 in Shanghai:

Launch the gallery by clicking the thumbnails above. And stay tuned for more Expo 2010 coverage all week long.


When you’re the host country, you get to build the biggest pavilion. Every photo I’ve seen of China’s Expo HQ doesn’t do its incredible scale justice. See those little dots at the base? Those are people.

China, Macau and Hong Kong

China’s special administrative units get to bask in the giant crown-inspired tower’s shadow (size distortion here due to fisheye; Hong Kong [left] and Macau are much tinier). Macau’s bunny pavilion was an early favorite of mine when concepts were rolling out–I’m glad it made it into reality, representing the Las Vegas of the East in fine form.

China From Afar

The bright red of China’s ancient-crown-inspired pavilion is a focal point for many of the Expo site’s walkways.

The UK’s Seed Cathedral

Is just as stunning in real life as it is in photos, where it almost always looks like a computer rendering. But it’s most certainly real. The tips of each fiber optic strand wave gently in the breeze.

A Cloud of Fiber Optics

I want to lay on top of this. Call it Seed-Cathedral acupuncture.

The Line for the Seed Cathedral

It’s one of the most popular pavilions here. Some are waiting three hours or more to get close.

United Arab Emirates

I was actually expecting more from the country with some of the most outlandish, extreme architecture in the world. Designed by Foster + Partners, the minds behind London’s Millenium bridge and several other high-profile projects, the pavilion is a gleaming steel mound resembling a sand dune. News to me that there’s still sand left in the country–I thought there were only shopping malls and 8-lane highways.

Saudi Arabia

A giant spaceship with palm trees on top.

Israel and Pakistan

You could think that this cozy placement of two states who are not the best of friends is a sly jab. Or you could also consider that they’re just relatively close to each other on the map. Israel’s is the egg-shaped pavilion on the left.

South Korea

Korea’s large, colorful pavilion is an assemblage of Hangul characters stacked Lego-style, with colorful character tiles on the undersides.


Another one kept near the paternally huge China tower, Taiwan’s giant, glass-encased, spherical LED video screen is very impressive in its own right.

Expo Culture Center

A giant performing arts stadium that sits like a hovering mothership on the banks of the Huangpu river. By now you are probably detecting a theme.


The former Soviet republic tries to repair some of the reputation damage done by Borat inside this pavilion.


Another huge crowd draw, Japan’s pavilion is, fittingly, a strange candy-colored geodesic blob. I didn’t know it was possible for blobs to be geodesic until today.


One of the most noticeable of the ‘stans, especially at night.


The USA pavilion is unimpressive and ugly. There’s just no way around that fact. More of my thoughts on our Expo home turf coming up later this week–stay tuned.


Canada’s pavilion is a nice wood-paneled hue by day, representing all those, you know, forests. And by night it’s illuminated vividly. Fellow Americans, don’t you hate being beaten in the great pavilion race by our northern neighbors? Hat’s off, Canadian readers!


Foregoing the obvious Oz/Emerald City inspirations, Australia’s pavilion is a wavy affair made of metal that has aged naturally since its installation last August into the deep red color of Outback clay. Banging on it sounds like rapping on a giant aluminum garbage can.

New Zealand

Australia’s down-under neighbor has converted its pavilion into a terraced green space.


Another unconventional building material: Portugal’s angular, geometric pavilion has walls made of cork.

A Closeup of Said Walls

Yep, cork.


Scaly walls and a hollow center represent Finland’s fisheries and glacial crevices.


Poland’s another popular one. Its walls and almost all of its interior structure is inspired by traditional papercutting.


Spain’s massive pavilion is one of the most eye-catching at night, with lights peeking through its exterior composed entirely in wicker panels–a folk craft shared by Spain and China historically.

No Smoking Near the Wicker

For obvious reasons.


A stone-and-glass affair, the modular building apparently resembles “the Chinese game of pickup sticks” from above. Inside, the pavilion’s staff is outfitted in specially-designed Prada.


Another angular, spaceship-y pavilion–one of the Euro zone’s largest at the Expo.


Understated by day, France’s pavilion’s outer lattice shell lights up brilliantly at night. Inside, film, fashion and food are honored (it’s France)–and visiting masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay’s permanent collection are on view.


The Swiss pavilion’s open design is dotted with hundreds of solar-powered strobes that sparkle at random.


Russia’s pavilion is a little strangely Arabesque, is it not? Haven’t figured this one out yet.

The Netherlands

A fisheye view of the Dutch carnival of skewed modules, resembling a mini-city after a dose of something in Amsterdam. By far the most whimsical pavilion, and a popular one.


Another one that’s kind of snoozy during the day, Austria’s pavilion transforms into a glossy iceberg at night.


Wouldn’t it have been a treat if Greece came to Shanghai with a gleaming, gold-leaf Parthenon with a swimming pool of ambrosia out back? Poor Greece. This frugal/broke pavilion suits its current financial situation more appropriately.


Serbia’s pavilion is built with what look to me like interlocking Yaffa blocks, arranged in a folksy weave pattern.

South Africa

A smiling, 20-foot Nelson Mandela visage greets you personally.

Tunisia and Egypt

Egypt resisted strongly something pyramidal, you can bet. Tunisia went the traditional route.

The Mystery Pavilion

I don’t know who this still-under-construction pavilion belongs to, but I like it. Another that shimmers nicely in the wind–each lightweight metallic panel flaps in the Shanghai breeze. Update! I have since learned this is Latvia’s pavilion.