Building Visions, Making Connections
Diverse Perspectives on World Expo and Creative Design

Shanghai joined the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as City of Design in February 2010. In the same year, Shanghai hosted the World Expo and attracted 73 million visitors. Since then, the cultural and creative industries in Shanghai are growing rapidly, and new technologies and social trends have also been reforming the exhibition industry. This has generated great demand for new talent.

This November, Shanghai University organised the 1st Symposium on Creative Exhibition Design from the World Expo Perspective: Building Visions, Making Connections. Scholars in the field of arts and humanities as well as designers, artists and entrepreneurs were invited to share their views on Expo-related design. The symposium was organised as part of the initiative to create a platform for building theoretical frameworks and opening up practical opportunities for exhibition-related disciplines. It is proposed and hosted by Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University, and advised by China Artists Association.

Xu XU (Vice President of Shanghai University) delivered a welcome speech, in which he mentioned ‘The three-month Astana Expo 2017 has just ended. Back in 2010, World Expo in Shanghai attracted over 70 million visitors from all over the world and it has left many wonderful memories. In the future, we plan to co-organise symposiums with other Expo host cities to promote communication of issues of vital importance for human development. We are devoted to creatively transforming and developing Expo concepts by integrating Chinese wisdom.’ 


Wei RUAN (Director of World Expo Affairs Office at China Council for the Promotion of International Trade) gave a short review of the history of World Expo and introduced the roles China played (in particular the Expo Shanghai 2010). He suggested that Expo had always been a platform for demonstrating technological innovations and promoting regional development and investment. He stressed the importance of the interpretation of Expo themes, in the form of both architecture and exhibition. In addition, he provided his view on the future of World Expo and predicted that sustainable development would stay the main focus of Expo for the next 10 to 15 years.

Xiuhua LIU (Director of World Expo Museum) introduced the World Expo Museum, which opened its doors to the public in May 2017. It is a permanent museum jointly built by the Government of Shanghai and the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), and is the only official museum and documentation centre in the world entirely dedicated to Expos and authorised by the BIE. Liu mentioned that the museum would serve as a research center for Expo-related studies and further strengthen its social and educational roles by collaborating with higher education institutions and practitioners.


The invited speakers each gave a 20-minute presentation around the 4 topics of the symposium: Interpretation of Expo Themes,Exhibition DesignArchitecture and the Environment, and Media and Graphic Design.

Li YU (Former Deputy Curator of the World Expo Museum and Former Curator of the Pavilion of Future at Expo Shanghai 2010) and a few other scholars noted that while Expo provided crucial chances for public diplomacy, it had always been important to take visitor experience into account. In this aspect, several practitioners (exhibition designers, architects, and project managers) discussed their own experience and observations on Expo projects, including challenges and techniques of working with local partners, designs that foresee the re-use and afterlife of both pavilions and exhibitions, and application of interactive technologies.


In terms of Expo themes, Hong FAN (Director and Professor at National Image Communication Research Centre, Tsinghua University) discussed exhibition and architecture design from the perspective of communicating national image. She stressed the importance of establishing a common discourse, delivering multi-dimensional spatial design, and creating interactive events, which would demand collaborations between different professionals.


When it comes to communication between different cultures,Jianxiong GE (Former Library Curator and Professor at Fudan University) offered his opinion on the differences between ‘silk roads’ and the Belt and Road initiative. After a short review of cultural exchanges along silk roads, GE suggested that we should not over-romantise its historical value.

He proposed that along the historical silk roads, China mainly ‘imported’ foreign culture. In comparison, the Belt and Road initiative adopts a very innovative approach for cultural exchange and for communicating Chinese culture. He stated that Expo had always been an excellent platform for cultural exchange, and deep understanding of human history from the perspective of historical geography could make great contribution to successful cross-cultural communication.


Architects from different countries shared their design experience.  

Martin Castle (Partner of Foster+Partners, Chief Architect of UAE Pavilion at Expo Shanghai 2010, UAE Pavilion at Expo Milan 2015 and “Mobile” Theme Pavilion at Expo Dubai 2020) introduced the experience of designing UAE pavilions based on the team’s analysis of the ‘desert culture’ of UAE as well as cultural diversity within the country. He shared creative approaches of combining distinctive features of UAE and different host cities, including details at practical levels such as temperature variations and queueing experience. He also talked about how exhibition design needed to take into consideration expectations of different types of visitors.


Ming YANG (Chief Architect of the World Expo Museum, Deputy Chief Designer of East China Architectural Design & Research Institute and Director and Professor-level Senior Engineer at Creation Center of East China Architectural Design & Research Institute) reviewed his design experience with the World Expo Museum. The greatest challenge, he said, was to condense a rich history of World Expo into the museum space. The design team combined steel and glass to pay tribute to the 1st World Fair in the Crystal Palace in London. The whole structure is mainly composed of two parts, the ‘History Valley’ which symbolizes history and eternity and the upper part called ‘Celebration Cloud’ that forms a transparent space with 4,000 glass panes. Yang emphasised that he aimed to design a citizen’s museum that both exhibits the history of Expo as well as the spirit of Shanghai. The sunlight constantly changes the colour of the museum building, and the use of copper as the main material is also meant to reflect the passage of time.


Scholars from the field of exhibition design covered a wide range of topics, including the application of interactive technologies, integration of architecture, exhibition space and content, and challenges of applying ideas into practice. Dan SU (Deputy Dean and Professor at Academy of Arts & Design, Tsinghua University) shared his experience of designing the China pavilion for Milan Expo 2015. He also reviewed the changing style of pavilions in the history of World Expo and pointed out that in recent decades Expo architecture had been greatly influenced by contemporary art and new aesthetic values. Francois Quere (Advisor of the Louvre Abu Dhabi Project, Head of the Alsace Pavilion at Expo Shanghai 2010 and Chief of the International Division at Anamnasia) shared his experience of working on Expo projects. He emphasised that when designing exhibitions for Expo, three aspects needed to be taken into consideration: improving queueing experience, striking a balance between experience and content, and aiming for integrated design.


During the session of Media and Graphic Design, designers shared their practices on designer Expo logos, mascots, and interactive experience. Akira Ishikawa (Chief Designer of Expo Aichi 2005 Logo) elaborated on his design ideas for the logo for Aichi, in which the character Ai (Love) refers to both Aichi and love for planet. Rather than adopting a design approach of highlighting fashionable and modern elements, Ishikawa created a unique style that rendered his design easily approachable and understandable to the public.

On the following day, Nov. 4th 2017, three parallel round-table forums were held in a newly transformed campus site (located in an industrial park) of the Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai Universities, where delegates delved into further discussions on Expo-related design.


Dawei WANG (Executive Dean and Professor at Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University) made a few closing remarks in which he stated that the Academy is devoted to transforming its art and design education, which will lay moreemphasis on cross-disciplinary topics and new social trends. He expressed gratitude to all speakers who shared their unique views and diverse perspectives, and he specially thanked Weixing DONG, Xuesong CHENG, Chunxin DONG, Ning WANG, and Tianqing GE who co-chaired the organising committee and put much efforts in organising and facilitating the symposium.

In December 2017, the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts will set up an exhibition to display student work as outcomes of design workshops, which are part of the series of events related to the symposium.


The theme of the Expo 2020 Dubai is set as Connecting Minds, Creating the Future, which will foreseeably inspire creative designs that reflect upon the changing interrelations among people and the relationship between man and the environment in the era of digital technology. China will certainly play a significant role on this global stage and Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts aims to create more opportunities for students, scholars and practitioners to keep the dialogue going. To make this possible, more publications will be issued and more events will organised in the coming years.


Please do not hesitate to contact us directly if you would like more information or discuss a collaboration opportunity:


Dr. Xuesong Cheng (Associate Professor at the Design Department, Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University; Project Co-chair):


Dr. Yanyue Yuan (Independent Scholar; Project Co-chair):



Posted by Hiu M. Chan at 15:02 (0) comments
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