'WelFairyTales' by Bjarke Ingels at Shanghai World Expo 2010

One story that has captured the imagination is inside a playful white perforated cylinder designed by Denmark's Bjarke Ingels/BIG.

In case you somehow hadn't noticed, the 2010 Shanghai World Expo opens this weekend. With 400 pavilions by 200 nations all screaming for attention, one story that has captured the imagination is inside a playful white perforated cylinder designed by Denmark's Bjarke Ingels.

The Danish pavilion is called 'WelFairyTales', and at the centre of a looping 0.5km ramp littered with free bicyles, Copenhagen's favourite statue The Little Mermaid sits delicately at the edge of a clear green pool. "People are mesmerised by her," says Ingels. "The fact is, the pavilion is totally interactive – you can run, you can cycle and you're allowed to jump in the fountain and touch the mermaid. She's not on a pedestal. I had to repeat that to journalists several times. They were shocked."

The idea behind the Little Mermaid's 8,200km journey to China was Ingels discovery that she was a shared cultural icon between the two nations. "Fairytales by Hans Christian Anderson are part of the Chinese elementary system." Says Ingels. "So, the one thing Chinese people know about Denmark is The Little Mermaid."

While the statue made its journey to Shanghai, Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei is making an installation on the Copenhagen harbourfront in her place. "He's putting the same security camera that the Chinese authorities have installed in front of his home into the pavilion, and the live feed will be screened on a giant screen in Copenhagen. If anyone in China wants to make a political message I guess they can walk up to the Little Mermaid and it will go out to the world."

The stark metal form of Ingels pavilion, together with the pool of water and the bronze statue may see Ingels channeling the spirit one of the most famous World Expo pavilions in history. "If you think about Barcelona, looking out at the stone courtyard with a girl reaching towards the light, it was pretty abstract." Recalls Ingels. "When I was inside the pavilon and saw the bronze statue with this stark white background and the reflection in the water there definitely seems to be some of the same elements. Although, obviously we're a bit more dynamic in our language."

When the pavilion opens to the public on Saturday 1st May and all serenity will no doubt be lost. With free bicycles looping up and down and paddling pools, swimmers and hundreds of thousands of visitors doing their best to get a glimpse of The Little Mermaid. "It's actually one of the fastest pavilions." Says Ingels. "If you're on a bike you can be done in four minutes. With 400 pavilions to see, that could be a good thing."
Beatrice Galilee

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