MAP-WEARING CONSTRUCTION: The outer façade of the Sweden Pavilion is made of perforated metal in a pattern that resembles a map of downtown Stockholm (LI JUNDONG)
Few children visiting the Sweden Pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai would want to miss the fun of riding its gigantic 14-meter slide. Offering a shortcut between the pavilion's second and first floors, the slide's 40-degree angle is steep enough to make the ride a thrilling and unforgettable experience.
"It is very exciting and totally worth the half-hour wait," said 37-year-old Gai Caihong, who screamed together with her 11-year-old daughter when they blasted out of the slide's tunnel.
Not far from the end of the slide is a playground with a number of luminous swings, another popular destination for younger visitors. Light boxes hang from the wall and ceiling, just like a starry sky, showing pictures of innovations from Sweden that have become reality.
Explaining the design of the hall that resembles a child's play room, Annika Rembe, Commissioner General of the pavilion, said, "we want to create some playfulness at the exhibition. We believe that playfulness and the ability to keep an open mind as a child is very important for the spirit of innovation."
Rembe said the installation of the slide, swings and a floor-to-ceiling kitchen, where visitors can explore smart and sustainable solutions to their daily lives, highlights the exhibition's emphasis on interaction with visitors.
"There are so many pavilions where you see wonderful videos in 3-D or IMAX. Sometimes you need to get a different perspective," she said. She also said visitors are generally happy with what they see and experience on the tour, according to the random surveys conducted by pavilion staff members. The pavilion received nearly 1 million visitors during the first two months of the Expo.
"Some pavilions' budgets are two or three times ours. I am pleased with what we have achieved for our budget," said Rembe. The Swedish Government committed 70 million Swedish crowns (about $9 million) to the Expo, an amount that is being matched by contributions from industry.
Dala horse, a traditional carved and painted wooden statuette of a horse originating in the Swedish province of Dalarna, and Pippi Longstocking, a fictional character in a series of children's books by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, become the most visible symbols of Swedish culture in the pavilion, and appear in various rooms.
Pictures of hundreds of inventions and gadgets created in Sweden are exhibited in the pavilion. There are old and famous ones like dynamite, the zipper and Skype. Then there are less-known ones like Solvatten, a portable solar-powered water purifier, diapers inspired by jellyfish's absorbency capacities and a silent drilling rig. With a population of less than 10 million, Sweden is home to many enterprises that achieve their success with innovative business models or products, such as IKEA and H&M.
Stars at the last exhibition room are two new models of industrial robots developed in Sweden. While one robot is busy pinning visitors' business cards on the wall, the other uses its agile hand to pick table tennis balls from a huge bowl and gives them to visitors as a souvenir.
An introduction on an unprecedented project of installing a traditional red Swedish cottage on the Moon's surface, which is expected to be completed by 2012, is painted on the wall of the last exhibition room. The 5-kg robot in the project, which is being constructed by robotics students at Malardalen University, will be solar-powered, controllable from the Earth and able to photograph the house once built.
However, Rembe thinks putting the best of Swedish innovation on display is not sufficient to illustrate the theme of the pavilion. "We are not focusing on specific innovations as much as on the spirit of innovation. We want to create an interest in the drive for innovation," she said.
In order to give visitors a live show about how innovation can be conducted, two rounds of a 72-hour "Race to Innovation," were hosted in an enclosed glass room in the pavilion from May 10 to 12 and from June 29 to July 1.
At the two races, contestants, who come from different professional backgrounds and have different expertise, were divided into two teams and worked almost around the clock to develop new products that can be patented. Whenever one of the teams has a question or problem, they can consult experts at a back office on accounting, patenting or technical matters to move on with their work.
During the three whole days, visitors can see the teams' discussion, planning, thinking, creating and innovating through glass and are also invited to observe the display of new inventions from the race.
New ideas created at the second race, sponsored by the Swedish Energy Agency, range from low-tech ones like a special zipper for prolonged clothing and a simple and effective way of making porridge, to hi-tech ones like a laptop screen shade with built-in solar panels to extend battery life and building techniques using blocks of fire-proof expanded polystyrene.
"We usually hold the race in venues where other people cannot see us and have no disturbances. But the pavilion is public space where people watch us all the time," said Professor Kaj Mickos, who created this mode of innovation competition and provided advice to contestants in the pavilion. "But it is fun to show people what can be invented in a short period of time with the Internet and modern technology."
Rembe said the enclosed area will host creative activities, such as children's competitions or design companies' workshops, throughout the Expo.