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German Pavilion, Shanghai World Expo, China

Issue 56 August / September 2010 : Architecture : Pavilion

ARCHITECT: Schmidhuber+Partner LIGHTING DESIGN: e3 PICS: Andreas Keller © Architecture Schmidhuber + Kaindl / Exhibition Milla + Partner

The German Pavilion is intended as a physical representation of ‘the urban balance between volatility and stability’. With many German - and indeed European - cities seeing a shift away from the suburbanisation of the past with a return to city-centre living, planners have been forced to create spaces that balance the needs of both work and domestic life.

This model of ‘city in flux’ is equally true of World Expo host, Shanghai, with its modern malls and record-beating skyscrapers.

Dubbed ‘Balancity’, the German Pavilion seems at first glance to be constructed from a series of individual, unstable section. When viewed as a whole, however, these sections work together to support each other in perfect symbiosis.

A silvery, transparent membrane, originally developed for shading façades, stetches over the entire steel frame to create a series of triangular planes. During the day, it supports climate control by reflecting up to 80 per cent of the solar radiation, effectively reducing the generation of heat inside. Though the building’s services systems and emergency staircases are all mounted on the exterior, the fabric hides them all away, creating a monolithic, sculptural appearance.
The transparent quality of the membrane, a softly reflective surface that seems to absorb ambient colours, causes the pavilion to change its appearance depending on the time of the day and weather conditions.
At night, the surfaces act as huge light screens, picking up the exterior lighting and reflecting it back into the surrounding area.

Lighting designers E3 Ingenieurgesellschaft knew that if all these planes were illuminated equally, the pavilion would lose its special three-dimensional look. Instead the team, headed by Ulrich Kunkel, picked out a selection of the pavilion’s angular surfaces using Tesis inground spotlights from ERCO - a mixture of directional and wall washlights versions with either 35W or 70W HIT discharge lamps.

Certain areas, such as the ‘Germany’ sign, needed extra illumination and for these ERCO 150W HIT Beamer spotlights were used.
Kunkel joined the project in the middle of 2008 as key consultant and designer for the exhibition lighting and scenic control system. After becoming more familiar with the scope of the pavilion project as a whole and becoming better acquainted with the project team, it was suggested his responsibilities should be expanded to include the exterior, VIP area and restaurant as well.

“Until then the lighting concept for the pavilion’s hull had been driven by some major ideas from the architectural team, which had already resulted in a few pretty renderings,” says Kunkel. “These images had already been used in various presentations and distributed with press releases, so the main scope [of the brief] was to match this virtual reality as closely as possible with some real products.”

The client, the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, had created the Consortium German Pavilion Shanghai Gbr to undertake the design, planning and realisation of the pavilion (architecture by Schmidhuber + Kaindl GmbH , Munich, exhibition by Milla und Oartner GmbH, Stuttgart, and execution by Nüssli (Deutscland) GmbH, Roth), with organisational and operational duties falling to Koelnmesse International GmbH. When Kunkel was asked to explain his plans for the external scheme, he drew comparisons with the world-famous Hope Diamond, pointing out it’s multi-facetted shape, like the pavilion’s, only looked breath-taking when properly lit.

“As we were forced to light most of the pavilion from the floor level we decided to use a range of appropriate outdoor floorspots,” he says. “The first tests with some local products in China did not look too promising, so we decided to specify ERCO as a lead product as we were already cooperating with this company for some special engineered LED fixtures and spotlights for the exhibition areas.”

The German Pavilion’s 6,000m2 plot sits, along with France, Switzerland and Poland, around a small Expo plaza that is used for various events.
The four sides of the German Pavilion are assigned different functions: the south side contains the infrastructure with service and technology rooms and can be reached via a separate access road whilst the north side is pavilion’s public face. A restaurant, information centre, souvenir shop and the event area with a stage can be reached via the Expo plaza from the northwest.

With no clear markers delineating the borders to the pavilion plot, visitors are able to wander beneath the structure via a series of passageways. Access to the main exhibition starts with a terraced landscape on the ground floor. Like a labyrinth it weaves its way through the waiting area towards the entrance. Visitors pass through various ravine, plaza and courtyard spaces before reaching a first-floor terrace with views out over the Expo grounds.

The star attraction at Balancity is a piece entitled ‘The Energy Source’. Visitors stand in tiered balconies around a central atrium. Hanging at its centre is a 1.5-ton sphere, three metres in diameter and covered, much like an old disco mirrorball, in 1,525 LED tiles. A special pixel-mapping media server uses special software to convert 16:9 format video files into imagery that wraps around the entire sphere. The sphere swings in a circular motion like a pendulum, glowing brighter and swinging more profoundly in response to the noises from the audience. Groups on different sides of the atrium can compete and collaborate, cheering and clapping together to draw the pendulum towards their side. It further underlines the pavilion’s message that working together can create better urban spaces.

The back walls of the audience space are lit by 185 ERCO LED wall washlights that were customised for DMX control so they were actually controlled by a media server.

The Energy Source undergoing tests:


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