Meanwhile, the State Department's apparently noncompetitive authorization of Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc. means that the group's architect and design weren't subject to a competitive review, a highly unusual procedure in selecting any $61 million building, much less one meant to represent the United States abroad (most of the other major Expo 2010 pavilions were selected in competition). The result is a dull, metal-clad, two-wing complex that's supposed to resemble an eagle. Inside, visitors will be subjected to "4-D" screenings of a film depicting the world of 2030 through the eyes of a Chinese-American woman who visited Expo 2010. This film, no surprise, is produced by longtime acquaintances of Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc.'s Warner Bros. founders.
William Bostwick, an architecture and design writer for Fast Company, commenting to me on the pavilion in light of the long-past era of great U.S. pavilions, such as the iconic, Buckminster Fuller-designed geodesic dome for Expo ‘67 in Montreal, notes: "The building is basically a giant movie theater -- the architecture is totally secondary to the so-called '4-D multimedia' display inside." Bostwick's withering opinion is not an outlier; the U.S. architectural community has begun to take notice and their assessments are even harsher. It didn't have to be this way, and in fact, it's likely that -- had Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc. been subjected to an architectural competition -- the unimaginative design favored by the ex-Warner Bros. executives would not have been the choice of a review panel of even middling U.S. architects. Already, it has been eclipsed by better buildings and concepts located throughout the Expo grounds.
In addition, considerable suspicion revolves around how the $61 million -- 92 percent of which has already been raised, largely due to the efforts of Clinton and Villarreal -- is being spent. Alas, when I asked Villarreal if he would be willing to release the pavilion's budget, he demurred, telling me that the question would be more properly addressed to the pavilion's board of directors. In any case, the pavilion seems to have encountered financial problems, requiring, some say, a loan from the Chinese government to stay afloat.
The budget documents, if they exist, would likely go far to illuminate how, precisely, Shanghai Expo 2010 resurrected itself after informing the State Department in October 2008 that it was "shutting down" due to a shortage of "time and money." In two spring 2009 interviews, Nick Winslow informed me that he'd arranged a Chinese government loan for the purpose. Subsequently, the U.S. consul general in Shanghai informed me that Winslow had been misquoted. Villarreal, when I asked him about the loan last week, said that it may have been a misunderstanding based upon "semantics." "I had heard that the Chinese had done some preparatory foundational work [at the U.S. pavilion site]," he said. "Some might have characterized that as a loan."