Onsite Update #2
Germany, Switzerland, and Norway
The Germans do many things well — build cars, invade France, and create exhibits of exceptional design and unusual inventiveness. Innovative details take center stage in the Germany Pavilion, including subtle touches like walls covered in rectangular fish-scale-like laminate that changed colors under the lighting from iridescent green to purple. Historically, Germany coins clever names for its pavilions. At Expo 2010 in Shanghai, the Germany Pavilion was dubbed "Balancity" (balance + city). Here in Yeosu, the Germany Pavilion is known as "Seavolution," marrying the sea to evolution. To drive home the importance of saving the world's oceans and coasts, Germany created a pavilion that would engross, educate, and entertain. In one room, photos of real beaches were printed atop a soft foam flooring with enough give that it actually felt like your feet were sinking into dry sand.
An interactive allowed attendees to run their fingers over a book, which was actually a white projection surface in the shape of a book. When you ran your fingers over the top, as if to turn the page, the projection shifted to the next page of the virtual tome. Another kiosk explained in stern Mr. Science detail how methane bubbles can change the density of water so dramatically they can sink the mightiest ships. To dramatize the textbook-calm language, the Germans blew a blizzard of bubbles through a large rectangular glass container of water, which violently capsized a toy boat inside as if it were the SS Minnow instead of, perhaps, an oil tanker weighing half a million tons. To visually symbolize the enormous value of oceanic research, Germany also crafted a room whose ceiling appeared constructed of chunks of gold ore. All you had to do, it seemed to suggest, was just reach up and grab your fortune.
Norway's Pavilion was low key, but it still found a way to intrigue and surprise us. One hostess walked visitors through every section of the presentation - which took you by sub through Norway's waters and coastal regions. Not only did she break the convention of using a different guide for every part of a pavilion, she also played the role of captain for the adventure, thus having a reason for escorting attendees for the entire tour.
But one of the biggest surprises may have been Armenia. The former vassal state of the defunct Soviet Union was stuck in a small space inside the Atlantic Ocean Pavilion, where most booths feature little more than travel posters advertising paradise in that particular country along with knickknacks for sale. Many, in fact, look like your mom's garage cleaned up for a rummage sale. But the country fabled to be descended from Noah wasn't afraid to rock that particular boat.
Instead of bright Calypso colors, Armenia's booth was as black as a Chanel cocktail dress. Instead of save-the-whaling on attendees, it asked if the ocean of digital information could save the ocean of dying plankton and disappearing coral reefs. Projected questions on a wall about justice and culture came with floating QR codes alongside images of Armenian inventors. Scanning the various QR codes took visitors to pages that explained how each inventor’s foresight shook the world.
Resembling the old-fashioned fairs along its North Sea coast, Belgium’s pavilion welcomed visitors through a ticket-booth-like entrance leading to an interior dominated by a trio of carousals displaying the country’s famed products. Diamond-shaped kiosks on one spinning stand held a collection of the precious gems, a reminder that Belgium leads the world in the cutting and polishing of the stones. A second carousel displayed an assemblage of photographs and cardboard cut-outs of the country’s icons, from waffles to royalty. In the third and last merry-go-round, a master chocolatier molded the confection into scrumptious sculptures of fish, porpoises, and other sugary sweet representations of the Expo 2012 theme.
Meanwhile, the Thailand Pavilion grabbed attendees’ attention with a mix of the traditional and the technological, attracting 10,000 visitors a day. Outside the pavilion, an animatronic statue interacts with an animated character, Sutsakon, and his dragon-horse companion, Ma Nin Mangkon, who hail from classic Thai literature. Inside the pavilion, a 15-foot-tall animatronic mermaid showcases Thailand’s marine resources as well as its efforts to conserve its coastal eco-system.
The Swiss are methodical, whether it's their watches or their banks. And their pavilions don't stray from their "Measure twice, cut once" approach, either. In fact, we wanted to yodel our admiration when we heard they test-marketed the graphic for the pavilion's exterior and adapted their original concept to reflect what Koreans preferred. But if the pavilion peaked at focus-grouped images, that would have been like Swiss cheese without the holes. Rather, Switzerland created an integrated pavilion that used sound, touch, and sight to bring its message of water conservation to bear.
Visitors entered a winding 60-foot tunnel with the sound of water plunking down as if in a great cavern. If you stood on any one of 15 circular orbs in the tunnel and cupped you hands, a dragonfly might appear, reflecting the message written on the wall that a healthy population of the double-winged insect reflects a healthy water supply. Hold your hands out standing on another orb, and faces might appear on them, reinforcing the written question in front of you asking "Water - who owns you?" Each of the enchanting images appeared in visitors’ hands via beam-like projections that sensed and reacted to movement. When you held your hands out, the beam began by projection a droplet and a ripple before slowly revealing an image.
In the Ice-core room, the Swiss display samples of ice drilled from about 250 feet inside one of its glaciers. Within a long thin tube in a room kept well below freezing, the ice at its oldest dates back 15,000 years, three times as old as the most ancient pyramids, older than the last mammoths, and completely free of human pollutants. While the tube has white-gray lines and markings noting the age of the ice at different points, a noticeable red line marks the juncture at which the frozen water becomes older than the nation of Korea itself. It was a savvy way to connect with your audience which otherwise might have been left, well, cold by the abstract data.
In the Source room, visitors moved into a circular enclosure with mirrors covering the walls at fractured angles. Four projectors flash a 4.5-minute movie on a 30-foot-diameter pool in the middle, showing water as a source of both joy and responsibility. With the pool's images reflecting off the staggered mirrors surrounding the room, the effect became almost hallucinatory.
We also toured the massive Marine Life Pavilion. Done in a charcoal gray with orange accents, the building houses a series of massive aquariums and a theater with a screen showing endangered coastlines fronted by a physical beach. The actual, dimensional beach scene in front of the movie — which occupied about half the room — had 25 iPad-like monitors. When the film played scenes of wildlife disappearing from the earth, the monitors then highlighted those species, such as the Fiddler Crab. Behind us, a thick copse of reeds that nearly reached the ceiling augmented the illusion of standing in a marsh, along with the gulls swooping overhead whose cries seemed more like funeral dirges.
The next room jarred attendees with its sudden break from the great outdoors to the vast deep. Built like Captain Nemo's "Nautilus," from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," the room's floor rumbled while the nine 8-by-10-foot video "windows" showed the water rushing over the vessel as it appeared to sink dozens, then hundreds of meters below sea level. The sub races to the rescue when a whale becomes entangled in a fishing net and removes the strangling twine with robotic clippers. Later, the whale returns the favor, plucking a giant angry squid off the sub's hull and snacking on it like the fish version of Funyuns. The moral was clear, especially in an expo whose theme is "The Living Ocean and Coast," and it was told with the simplicity of an Aesop's fable: the ocean pays us back in proportion to how we treat it.
Stay tuned for our next online update, direct from Yeosu, featuring many more of the roughly 140 corporate, country, and theme pavilions — some inspiring, others depressing, all interesting.
Charles Pappas, senior writer