Those Expo 2010 Lines? Blame the Foreigners.

I realize that Expo 2010 (Shanghai World’s Fair) is getting a bit long in the tooth, but … I’d like to share with my Expo readers an interesting note that I received from someone involved in the design of an Expo 2010 pavilion. The topic is Expo lines (or queues, my British friends), and who should be blamed for the fact that visitors are waiting as many as eight hours to enter some of the most popular pavilions. Generally, it seems, the lines are treated as the inevitable consequence of China’s large population. And, in the Chinese media and blogsphere, at least, lines/queues are sited as stamps of quality: ie, the only reason people spend eight hours outside of the Saudi pavilion is that it’s so terrific inside (believe me, it’s not).

And this perverse state of affairs (queues = quality) has led to accusations from some pavilions (Turkey, most notably) that other pavilions (Saudi, most notably), actually manipulate their traffic so that they can enjoy the prestige of lone lines. The email below responds to that suggestion. I’ve edited out any information that could identify this person (and also some of his language – Shanghai Scrap is, ahem, a family blog). Beyond that, this is the unexpurgated opinion of someone who knows what he’s talking about:

The longer queues are being sited as a sign of quality by a lot of the Chinese media – it’s crazy and (as a designer) f****** insulting.

Take Australia – 50,000 per day, longest wait at peak is around an hour .  Why?  It was was designed to deliver the best experience to the most guests.

I visited a lot of pavilions recently and I’m not sure that they set out to deliberately manipulate the queues, I think that they are just sh**** design (from a audience flow point of view).

Take Britain – If I waited 5 f****** hours to get into there I would kill someone.  The solution to the queue is straight forward – why doesn’t it pass under and through the seed room as a straight line?  The experience would be the same and would accommodate Turkey style numbers!

[Below, the seed cathedral, and its one entrance/exit, ie the “road block”]

Don’t get me started on Germany, 6 hours? You have to be kidding…

The fact that these pavilions are rewarded for crappy, thoughtless design (architects only care about their building statement not the audience) by the Chinese media is astounding to me. Long queues do not equal a great pavilion that is worth the wait (OIL – I’m talking to you guys!). It signals a participant that has not taken the Chinese audience seriously and is treating them with little respect. “Build it and they will wait” basically equals a great big bucket of f*** you to the Expo guests conned into wasting the day.


  1. I think designers and pavilion staff may be charitably excused for grossly underestimating daily attendance, and do so without expletive.

  2. Scott – I’ll disagree with you here. Participating countries and organizations in Expo 2010 received a detailed brief on pavilion design parameters in advance of the Expo, which clearly indicated the expected audience volumes. But even if they didn’t read that, surely they were not ignorant of the projections of 70 and even 90 million possible attendees that the Expo organizers trumpeted for years in advance of the event. In other words: nobody can reasonably claim to have been surprised by the crowds.

  3. Agree with Adam. Too many countries ignored the brief from the Expo Bureau and designed without regard tto the projected crowds. It WAS insensitive and stupid but I doubt it really matters anymore. Yeosu and Milano will only draw fractions of what Shanghai has drawn. By the time another one is held here everyone will have forgotten the lessons.

  4. Good post. Let’s add a few long lines that result from crap designs: Japan, South Korea, and your beloved USA pavilion. Disney could have helped on that one, don’t you think? Japan Corporate pavilion, GM, and Singapore, too. Good design award goes to Netherlands, France and Canada for moving ’em in and out. I think the Germans are the worst for design and I hope that their pavilion debacle disabuses the Chinese of their German quality fetish for eternity.

  5. In my experience the bottleneck factor of most of the worst pavilions (in this regard) is just the fact that most every single one incorporates a movie/show of some sort, in an auditorium of almost laughably small capacity (as I mentioned, usually somewhere in the range of 120-150 every 20 minutes – cough Japan). The rest of the line length owes usually to how impressive the pavilion looks on the outside (note that the most shiny exteriors of all the province “booths” in the base of China pavilion, for example, garner lines up to an hour or two! – with the most opaque exteriors earning the most attention). And we all probably know of the crowd mentality “if there’s a line, get in it.” Lines lengths don’t self-regulate here: the longer, the more attractive (weirdly enough). So I’m going to agree with this author that the lines are mostly poor, thoughtless design along with the assumption that most people wouldn’t be willing to wait more than x hours in line – which is not, in most places, a terrible assumption.
    (Btw, compared to most pavilions’ 120-or-so capacity theaters (for 20 minute movies!) the USAP accommodates 550 every ten minutes. Not that this too couldn’t be better, but the USAP gets through 45-50k people every day, and the wait time rarely reaches over an hour (contrary to the hyperinflated estimates they broadcast over the intercom). The line pretty much doesn’t ever stand still. So at least on this one aspect, Zone C, please don’t throw the USAP in the ranks of Japan and South Korea. Obviously it doesn’t redeem other design flaws, but the USAP does work its line.)

  6. If you look back at former expos you will see that queues have always been there, always a part of the expo experience. Aichi 2005 , I rememeber the que to the Toyota pavilion was 3 hours. The fact of the queues is related to several things and factors;
    1) long queues are a sign of a successful expo in the eyes of some countries that have to sell the long line pictures to their local media so the citizens of that country can see that all the money that was spend to participate in an expo was worth, because “see, now so many more people will know our country and come and visit us”. Believe it or not but some countries play this card even in Vhina because they know that the majority of the population of that country is completely china ignorant! ( examples: Czech Republic, France, Luxembourg, etc)
    2) a lot of these International participants and their organizations came to china completely oblivious on the knowledge on what and how is China really! So they designed like they always do, like some organizations represent their country in all expos like Koelnmesse for Germany and always have a f***ing bottleneck somewhere in their pavilion. They have been designing pavilions this way since Hannover 2000 ( a flop of an expo)!
    3) some countries lost part of their initial buffet due to the economical crisis and had to redesign…not always for the better…their pavilion.
    4) and then, finally you have the ones that just don’t give a sh** because they are there to lose business deals and make new partners for their sponsors or partners or just want a stronger commercial foot in that country like; UK, Belgium, etc…
    On this note I just want to add that after working 2 years towards the expo and these last month on the expo the only ones I can say that are here or are at expos always for the right reasons are the Swiss, they don’t go to expos for business or make long lines, they are just happy that50% of the people that leave their pavilion will know that there is such a country as Switzerland and where is ior what it stands for. No I am not Swiss, I am Belgian..hehehe

  7. Sorry for the tipos…I meant China in point 1 , BUDGET in point 3 and CLOSE business deals in point 4

  8. The rolling carpet idea incroporated into some of the pavilions, i think sweden and definitely the ‘chinese history part’ of the china pavilion, is brilliant. it swiftly moves people along and keeps the queue moving steadily. why weren’t they built into more pavilions!?

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