What was not immediately apparent, and particularly not to those whose ‘visit’ was restricted to viewing images on television or in magazines or on the internet, was the subtlety that went into achieving the strong red colour. Song Jianming, vice president of the China Academy of Art, said, ‘It is such a special building, which is a symbol of our country. In order to provide it with a pleasant and visual effect, China red was the only and inevitable choice.’ But just using one tone of red would not have done. Because of the form of the building, the higher levels overshadow the lower ones. This was particularly a problem on the south facade, where there would be bright sunlight on the top and shadow beneath. Similar, there would be a lot of shade in the interior, so that a bright red used internally would be dulled down to a brownish tone. Rather like the use of entasis on Greek columns, which were curved to make them appear straight, it was necessary to use a number of different shades on the building, in order to give the impression of a unified colour.

The first major decision for Song Jianming was to use a different colour internally from externally. He said, ‘After doing some experiments, I adopted finally the combination of four reds for the exterior and three reds for the interior.’ On the exterior, he explained, ‘We marked the four reds for the exterior as No.1 to No.4 according to their brightness. No.1, which was dark and cold, was used on the top of the building (the largest roof). Since this part is always in sunshine, its colour must be strong so that it can convey a feeling that its weight can keep the whole building under control. No.2 (the roof of the VIP room and the first two crossbeams below the largest roof), is brighter and warmer than No.1, and functions as the transitional colour

‘No.3 is the main colour used on the exterior (the three crossbeams below the No.2 crossbeams and the main body of the pavilion), occupying the largest area with the most striking effect. It is bright, warm, firm but elegant and with an internal strength. No.4 (used for the lowest crossbeam), is very bright. We describe it as the decorating colour.’ The rafters between the crossbeams are a combination of colours 2, 3 and 4.

Song Jianming used a similar approach internally, this time designating the colours as A, B and C. A, the strongest colour, is used in the four corners. B, which is lighter and brighter, serves as a supplementary colour. And C, which is cold and light, is the main colour for the interior. ‘I used these colours to make sure that the whole building is RED no matter what the illumination is,’ said Song Jianming. ‘We adopted this colour strategy to make the whole building of the China Pavilion an organic and integral whole as well as in perfect harmony.’

Developing the colour strategy was one part of the challenge. Achieving it was equally demanding. Having started with a very technical approach, coming up with the concept on the computer, Song Jianming then found that trying to select the colours on a chromatogram was not effective. ‘Nothing could really satisfy me due to its lack of a naturally emotional appeal,’ he said. Instead he turned to oil paints, looking at his proposals indoors and outdoors and consulting with his assistants until he reached a solution with which he was happy.

Hunter Douglas China then made the panels to Song Jianming’s specification, again testing the material in different lighting conditions. The result, believed to be the largest red building in the world, was an eye-catching exhibit at the Expo. And for those unable to get there, there was a further opportunity to visit for six months starting in December 2010. There is a tradition of ‘temporary’ buildings constructed for such events finding a permanent life – best known of them is Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Could Shanghai’s China pavilion be about to join this august company?

By building

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