On Friday, the Shanghai World Expo 2010 opening as "a grand gathering of the world cultures," a kind of international "We are the world" singalong. As many as 100 million visitors are expected, and they'll descend on on 189 pavilions, created by all but seven of the countries in the entire world. In the design of each, there's not supposed to be any politics. No international posturing. But really? Why did North Korea put clouds on its building? And what is America's just dying to tell China?

Here, we've drawn up a handy guide to pavilion architecture, a secret decoder ring, of sorts, to the World Expo. What are these buildings really saying?

With its slender acrylic rods jutting out every which way like a porcupine, the UK Pavilion, by Thomas Heatherwick, is in turns gorgeous and frightening. Message to China: We could take back Hong Kong, if we felt like it. Just sayin'.

Diplomacy FAIL: The United States put about as much effort into designing its pavilion, by Canadian Clive Grout, as it would a Walmart. Message to China: We couldn't care less about you. And the $61 million this old pile cost to build: We borrowed it from you! Ha?
Switzerland's pavilion, by Buchner Br√ľndler Architects, is weirdly shielded behind a fence, as if it were World War II all over again. Message to China and the world: Stay out.
Mass Studies's pavilion for South Korea manages to be both open and guarded. Message to China: We love you. No wait, we hate you. No wait, we love you. No wait, we hate you. Aw, you know we love you!
North Korea's pavilion (the one with clouds on it) is clearly some sort of Potemkin village. Message to China, courtesy of the Greatest Noblest Dearest Leader, Kim Jong-Il: This is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful pavilion in the world. Also, we have nukes.
Denmark's pavilion by Bjarke Ingels Group. That's the Little Mermaid, Copenhagen's most cherished tourist attraction, presiding over a sea of Danish saltwater, which is said to be so pure you can swim in it. Contrast that with Shanghai's waters, which are said to be so polluted, no one would dare swim in them, not even Blinky the three-eyed fish. Message to China: Clean your crap up!
The Spanish pavilion by Miralles/ Tagliabue EMBT looks awfully luxe, considering that the country's struggling to pay its massive national debt and threatens to bring down Europe with it. Message to China: Let's do business! Seriously, let's do business, please?
Portugal, too, with a design by Carlos Couto. How did they afford this thing? Message to China: We bought this with a credit card.
Iceland's pavilion by +Arkitektar is about as plain as it gets: a box covered in some sort of ice graphic, which is fitting given their dire straights after a credit bubble destroyed their economy. Message to China: Brother, can you spare a dime? Or perhaps a bank bailout?

Decoding the Pavilion Architecture of Shanghai World Expo 2010

Why did North Korea put clouds on its building? And what is America just dying to tell China ... via its pavilion?

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