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Saudi boat is Chinese

THE Saudi Arabia Pavilion, dubbed the Moon Boat, has become one of the major attractions for visitors to the World Expo, especially movie lovers with its large IMAX screen.

During peak times, visitors have queued for up to nine hours to enter the pavilion. But few of them knew it was designed by a Chinese architect.

"The pavilion has changed the traditional way of watching films. Usually people have to sit still to watch a film - it's like a kind of worship. But in the Saudi Arabia Pavilion, people can move along on a conveyer belt when watching the film," said Wang Zhenjun, the pavilion's chief architect.

"They can choose what to watch and what to turn away from. Each visitor also becomes a character in the film in the eyes of others," said Wang, who is also chief architect of the China Electronics Engineering Design Institute (CEEDI).

The 1,600-square-meter IMAX cinema has an unusual design - with no fixed seats. Instead, visitors stand or walk along a conveyer belt, which moves very slowly around the interior of the boat, to see a film from many different directions.

The film presents the culture and scenery of Saudi Arabia, including boundless sand, oases and towns. Visitors feel as if they are moving up toward the sky, then descend as if diving into the ocean, as well as other effects achieved simply through images on the screen.

The Moon Boat comes from the Arabian Nights stories. "The legendary Moon Boat represents a carrier of good wishes," Wang said.

"A pavilion actually serves as a museum, so the most important thing is to provide space for visitors. A boat is a container. A building is a container too. The shape of a boat can serve the purpose to provide enough space for visitors," Wang said.

A well-designed pavilion must get visitors involved so they are not "looking" at it passively, but "experiencing" it happily, Wang said.

When learning that the Saudi Arabia Pavilion was open to public design bids in 2007, Wang and his team responded with proposals after researching and consulting with many experts on Arabian culture.

"It's now time for Chinese architects to compete with their international peers following the situation in which China's building sector has been heavily relying on foreign architects' ideas in past years," he said.

The pavilion, like many others, will be dismantled after the Expo.


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