Is That a Six-Story Dandelion? The UK Pavilion's Seed Cathedral Is a Star Attraction at the Shanghai Expo

Is That a Six-Story Dandelion? The UK Pavilion's Seed Cathedral Is a Star Attraction at the Shanghai Expo

Julie Leibach
Published: 10/26/2010

The 2010 World Expo kicked off six months ago in Shanghai and wraps up at the end of October. In case you couldn't make it, here's a look at one of the star attractions of the show, the UK Pavilion's "Seed Cathedral."

All photos courtesy of Wolfgang Stuppy


Unofficially called the "dandelion" for its puff-ball structure, the Seed Cathedral portion of the UK pavilion consisted of 60,000 transparent rods bristling from a timber core.

Flexible on the structure’s outside, the rods undulated in the breeze, becoming rigid after passing into its wooden interior.

By day, sun illuminated the 25-foot rods, made of fiber-optic filaments; at night, LEDs created a hallowed glow.

Inside the cathedral, the rods terminate—or rather, germinate: Those tiny patterns are actually seeds encapsulated in the tip of each rod.

In keeping with the Expo’s theme, “Better City, Better Life,” British architectural firm Heatherwick Studio designed the UK's pavilion to make a connection between urban centers and nature.

China’s Kunming Institute of Botany, a partner in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project (MSBP) gave more than a quarter-million seeds to the pavilion. The MSBP's mission: to collect seeds from 25 percent of the world’s plant species by 2020.

“The future of mankind will depend on the diversity of plant life," says Kew Gardens seed morphologist Wolfgang Stuppy, who helped on the project.

For more on the Seed Cathedral and another view from inside, read "Holy Ground," from our November-December issue.