Worshiping Nature: Breathtaking Seed Cathedral in Shanghai


The 2010 World Expo in Shanghai is well underway with some of the most wondrous sights ever seen at any World’s Fair. It’s the largest and most expensive World’s Fair ever, with over 190 countries participating. Although each pavilion holds amazing sights and sounds, one has stood out to nature lovers around the world: the UK Pavilion, otherwise known as the Seed Cathedral, designed by superstar British designer Thomas Heatherwick. The huge structure is almost like a living thing, with its undulating “hairs” and the promise of life encapsulated in each.


The Seed Cathedral is among the most striking sights at the Expo. It stands at 66 feet high and features 60,000 transparent fiber optic rods, each 25 feet long and containing one or more seeds embedded in one end. The outside of the structure resembles a puffy dandelion about to disperse its seeds to the world on the wind. The rods sway and move gracefully with every breeze, giving the impression that the entire monument is alive. But the inside is even more breathtaking.



The interior of the huge structure is illuminated with exterior light that trickles down the rods. At the end of each rod you will find real seeds donated by China’s Kunming Institute of Botany in cooperation with the UK’s Kew Royal Botanic Gardens’ Millennium Seed Bank Project. The potential for life and the future of the planet is encased in each of these tiny seeds, a fact that becomes strikingly potent when you are surrounded by thousands of them in this mesmerizing place.


Heatherwick’s inspiration when designing the pavilion was to create an structure that was a direct reflection of its contents and purpose. The pavilion is a testament to the power and beauty of life, and it grandly echoes the grace of nature and the beauty of plants. It also stands out among the other pavilions at the Expo, most of which are technology-based and filled with flickering images and booming sounds. The Seed Cathedral, by contrast, is a peaceful and almost meditative space where one can quietly enjoy the diversity of nature’s promise.



At night, the structure glows from within: light sources in each rod allow light to travel outward, creating an ethereal sight for passers-by. Inside, the seeds are all illuminated individually to highlight their form and structure. The fiber optic rods were designed to be sensitive to fluctuating exterior light changes, so even clouds passing overhead are experienced within the Seed Cathedral as subtle flickers of light and shadow. The overall effect is one of tranquility and a fundamental connection with nature.


(all images via: PopSci)

Once the Expo is over in October 2010, the seeds will continue life in a new role. The fiber optic “hairs” will be distributed to hundreds of schools in China and the UK – much like dandelion seeds dispersing in the wind. Each one will be a special piece of history marking the collaboration between China and the UK to create this truly unforgettable display.