Gallery: 35 Incredible World Expo Pavilions

The architecture on display in Shanghai is diverse, at times beautiful, often surprising and always interesting. Here are 35 favorite pavilions after my first day

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.John Mahoney

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.John Mahoney

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.John Mahoney

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.John Mahoney

A Cloud of Fiber Optics

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

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.John Mahoney

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.John Mahoney

Saudi Arabia

A giant spaceship with palm trees on top.John Mahoney

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.John Mahoney

South Korea

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


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.John Mahoney

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.John Mahoney


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


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.John Mahoney


One of the most noticeable of the 'stans, especially at night.John Mahoney


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.John Mahoney


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!John Mahoney


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.John Mahoney

New Zealand

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


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

A Closeup of Said Walls

Yep, cork.John Mahoney


Scaly walls and a hollow center represent Finland's fisheries and glacial crevices.John Mahoney


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


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.John Mahoney

No Smoking Near the Wicker

For obvious reasons.John Mahoney


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.John Mahoney


Another angular, spaceship-y pavilion--one of the Euro zone's largest at the Expo.John Mahoney


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.John Mahoney


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


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

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.John Mahoney


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


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.John Mahoney


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

South Africa

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

Tunisia and Egypt

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

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.John Mahoney