The intriguing and popular British Pavilion for Expo 2010 Shanghai was designed by Heatherwick Studio, winners of the 2007 design competition. More than 200 countries are taking part in the Expo, the theme for which is "Better City, Better Life". It's expected to attract more than 70 million visitors and a key requirement of the UK's pavilion design was that it should stand out. Ramboll Safe fire engineering contributed services to the project.
The pavilion, called "Seed Cathedral", is a 20m high box-like timber structure sitting in an artificial contoured landscape. What makes it extraordinary are the 60,000 slender bendable acrylic rods that project from it, each 7.5m long, enabling it to respond to environmental conditions, such as light levels. The rods act like fibre optic filaments, transmitting light in and out. It's a 'living' building with a 'hairy' exterior, reflecting the colour and texture in the world around it. A further 5,000 40mm x 40mm acrylic rods support the building off the ground.
Although designed for the most part in accordance with the relevant Chinese standards, in two areas of the project it was found not possible to comply with the prescriptive standard fire codes and other international fire codes. The single exit is non-compliant as the building holds more than 100 people. In addition, the acrylic leg supports do not offer the required fire resistance.
A fire engineered solution has been applied in order to demonstrate an adequate level of life safety and property protection. As it is a unique building, we went back to first principles using small and large scale fire tests and modelling to show that the solution is appropriate. The fire strategy has been approved by the Shanghai Fire authority with the support of an expert panel of more than ten professionals from different backgrounds, including scientists.