Switzerland presents its wares at Shanghai Expo

The Swiss Pavilion – it only needs visitors

The largest ever world exhibition opens its doors on May 1 in Shanghai in China and the Swiss are ready and raring to go.

This content was published on April 29, 2010

Mountains and landscape are a big theme. But the stands belonging to Switzerland and the cities of Basel, Geneva and Zurich are hoping to go beyond Heidiland and the typical Swiss clichés.

The Swiss Pavilion certainly cuts a dash. It’s a huge raw concrete building, covered with a lattice work of thousands of LED cells.

It looks determinedly urban, and there’s no sign downstairs of the oasis of greenery and calm nestling in its roof. This area has been transformed into a flowering meadow, from which there is a breathtaking view of the Expo, river and city.

“It’s ying and yang,” explains Andreas Bründler, the Basel architect who built the pavilion, referring to elements in traditional Chinese philosophy. “We’re playing with contrasts, the pasture symbolises nature’s protecting role, which overcomes the urban space.”

Basically, the pavilion’s theme is the interaction between the city and the countryside. The visitor comes in through the city part, but it very quickly becomes clear that there are also mountains, lakes and rivers inside – the clichés of an idyllic Switzerland.

Heidiland and high tech

“I don’t think you should turn up your nose at it,” is the view of Blaise Godet, Switzerland’s ambassador to China.

He says that people like the image of Heidiland. “The Swiss have the real advantage in that our country is considered beautiful, a country of mountains, even if there are the clichés of chocolate and watches etc... but people will see straight away that there’s more than just Heidi, there’s also high tech.”

“It’s all about making the visitor familiar with Swiss innovation.”

Manuel Salchli, the director of the Swiss Pavilion and deputy commissioner general, says people need to go further than the standard Swiss images.

“Our surveys in China indicate that the clichés are very real and they are positive. So we approach visitors with what they know and we then take them into as yet undiscovered country,” Salchli said.

Compared with other pavilions, Switzerland is doing well, he argues. “We are much more original than other countries, who have built more conventional and traditional pavilions.”

3D images

This opinion is shared by Simon Bosshart, head of Switzerland Tourism in China. “I think that Switzerland has chosen a good strategy. It hasn’t gone for size but for originality.”

Real effort has gone into shaking up the clichés – the lovely 3D images dotted around the visitors’ path are accompanied by explanations about sustainable development, environmental protection and public transport.

The IMAX film, The Alps, is projected onto a giant circular screen and also features an avant-garde sound installation, which continues to the chairlift – a real one which is part of the pavilion.

The same applies to the Swiss Cities’ Pavilion, which is run by Geneva, Basel and Zurich. It offers a film on a 360 degree-screen, where people are taken on a virtual 24-hour tour of the shores of Lakes Geneva and Zurich, as well as the River Rhine, in just seven minutes.

The presentation includes information on sustainable water management – so not just touristy views. There are also touch screens, says Howe Yin Zhao, director of the pavilion. This is, “to show the Chinese that, despite our magnificent panoramas, we also have a dark history when it comes to the environment”, she said.

Swissness galore

The pavilions will host numerous exhibitions, seminars, conference and concerts for such bodies as Swissnex, the Swiss science and knowledge network; the Swiss arts council Pro Helvetia; the Montreux Jazz Festival; Presence Switzerland, the government’s PR agency, and swissinfo.

Betrand Piccard’s Solar Impulse solar-power plane will be presented, a Swiss design award handed out, and debates will be held on university exchanges for science and technology.

“By getting ourselves better known, we can improve the framework conditions for Switzerland’s dealings in China, our top economic partner in Asia,” explained Godet.

Expectations are running high on the business side. “Our VIP area is 95 per cent reserved,” said Salchli. The three cities are also reporting good take-up.

“It’s certainly the first time in world history that the whole world is coming to China and that the Chinese have an opportunity to gain a precise impression of the world,” observed Bosshart.

Alain Arnaud in Shanghai, (translated from French by Isobel Leybold-Johnson)

The Expo

The World Expo Shanghai opens its doors from May 1 – October 31, 2010. Under the motto "Better City, Better Life" it offers an international platform for economic, scientific, technological and cultural exchange.

192 countries and 50 international organisations will be there at the 5.3 km² exhibition area along the River Huangpu.

70 million people are expected to visit the World Expo 2010 Shanghai, with more than 90 per cent originating from China.

End of insertion

Who’ll be there

Swiss President Doris Leuthard will be in Shanghai on August 12 for the Swiss day with a “huge political and economic delegation”, according to Salchli.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey and Environment Minister Moritz Leuenberger could also be attending, in May and in September, respectively. This has yet to be confirmed.

Several cantonal and town cities are also expected to be represented. It is rumoured that Swiss tennis number one Roger Federer, a superstar in China, could come to the Pavilion, perhaps during the Shanghai Open in October. Betrand Piccard is also being mooted.

End of insertion

Outside the Expo

21 Smart cars in the Swiss colours will be circulating around Shanghai during the six months of the Expo. They will be fetching the winners of a Switzerland Tourism competition from their homes. The prize is an Expo entry ticket and transport there.

The IMAX film, The Alps, co-produced by Switzerland Tourism and Holcim, will be shown for six months at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, as well as in most large Chinese cities.

End of insertion
In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Discover our weekly must-reads for free!

Sign up to get our top stories straight into your mailbox.

The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.