GREEN DOME- INDIAN SHANGHAI PAVILION, SHANGHAI

[alert-success]Architect: Mohan Rao [/alert-success]

The Theme Section expresses harmony through its large bamboo dome – a herb roofed, indoor space provided with low-level air-conditioning.Inspired by the Buddhist Stupa at Sanchi, it rejoices in a common cultural thread between the host nation, China, and the guest, India. The Tree of Life is echoed in the pattern of the herbs.The dome is a Moso bamboo space grid with steel grouted joints finished with a woven bamboo mat acoustic ceiling. The ferrocement domesurface is created on site by hand. An innovative system of ropes and wires are the mounting grid for herb trays and solar cells, in a stunning composition with the Tree of Life in copper. The organic herbal, medicinal shrubs in the trays are a carbon sink and purify the air.

At the very initial stages, the dome was concieved as simply covered in green ,There was no particular design, pattern or meaning associated, except that it would have live plants.Subsequently, almost overnight, we came up with the idea of projecting the ‘Tree of Life’, a 3-D mural from the Siddique Syedi Mosque in Ahmedabad that was being used as part of the elevation of the pavilion. The actual process of translating the 3D design over a domed surface was extremely challenging but wasa managed through a bit of hard work and innovation between the Indian firms and the Chinese partners.

While the graphic of the tree of life (ToL) itself wrapped itself beautifully around the dome, the challenge was to resolve its physical expression through meaningful materials, surfaces and textures. This was a pretty long drawn process and finally resulted in the mass of the ToL -the trunks and branches- in beaten copper, the infill of the voids in the graphic being filled out by plants and solar panels. The planted portion was further resolved in a detailed pattern of colors and textures based on plants native to the Shanghai region, but with some degree of familiarity with the common Indian ones. Mostly, they were selected for their herbal / medicinal / nutritive values.

After several fits and starts, including cheap alternatives such as the fabric / plastic pouches, etc, we finally developed a system with a Chinese vendor that now stands executed. After much trial and error, the final system is a integration of three layers of geo-textiles – simple, non-woven fabric – that wraps the dome surface. The first layer is like a base layer that is firmly anchored to the polyurethane board that covers the ferrocement layer. (The PU board was a later introduction stipulated by the chinese codes). Between the second and third layers is an intricate network of metal / PVC pipes that carry the nutrition. Since we had to ditch the earlier system with the container, the issue of growing medium had been a thorny one.

The nutrition is suppled direcrtly at the root zone, making it obviously efficient. The plants material is transplanted form the nursery bags by removing the growing medium and the bare root structure is inserted in small cuts made in the top layer. The non-woven nature of the fabric, while allowing the roots to penetrate between the layers, is quite resistant to tears and disintegration. Irrigation is through a network of surface pipes that waters the root zone only. The absorptive nature of the fabric retains the moisture for much longer periods, minimizing irrigation cycles. In addition, sprays are introduced to wash the foliage of dust during extended dry periods, a common problem in Shanghai

The drainage is across the dome surface, free of any channels. The Tree of Life itself posed some problems, since it created pockets of concave surfaces to collect water. These were individually identified during installation and small cuts were made in these to allow free flow of water. There is only one gutter at the base of the dome, running along the ring beam, which collects all the water and channels it out.

The actual process of cataloging plants deserves a mention here… It went something like this… “A two-hour drive would take us to nurseries where I would finally choose a plant, whose name was noted based on the nursery-person’s pronunciation in Mandarin, validated and corrected by another Chinese person later. This then was used to track down the nearest common mandarin / English name. More tantrums and sleepless nights led to its Latin name, all of which were recorded based on its growth character, flowering season, water requirement, medicinal properties, etc… I personally did this with the help of 2 Indians, 2 Shanghainese, 1 French and 1 Chinese American over 5 weeks.. The compiled list was vetted and the species shortlisted in subsequent visits… four times OVER!!!!”

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