Expo pavilions reborn as non-profit school

Expo pavilions reborn as non-profit school

Some Expo pavilions -- or at least parts of them -- get a second chance as part of a local school, finally living up to the Expo’s sustainability theme

YK Pao school -- expo pavilions -- mainThe current YK Pao primary and secondary campus in Shanghai was built with green tech in mind, but the new Expo-based buildings in Songjiang District will make even these look old.One of the great ironies of the recently finished 2010 Shanghai World Expo, which touted sustainability as a key theme, was that no sustainable future was planned for the pavilions that took part.

After the event wrapped up last October, the majority of its pavilions were slated for the rubbish heap.

But one green story has sprouted from the Expo’s ashes. 

Three Shanghai NGOs have banded together to launch the Expo Materials Reuse project. They are reclaiming tonnes of materials from nine Expo pavilions to build a new campus for YK Pao School -- a local not-for-profit institution. 

Currently under construction, the 40,000-square-meter campus in Songjiang District will be finished in 2012.

It also gives them a demonstration that principles such as reuse can be put into practice. This is an important lesson for children in a time and place where society places a high value on the latest, shiniest thing.— Phillip Sohmen, principle of YK Pao

The finished campus will include over 300 items of furniture, fixtures and fittings from pavilions including New Zealand, India Pondicherry and Cisco. 

The project is led by the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (JUCCCE), Green Ideas Green Actions (GIGA) and social enterprise S.H.E. Advisory (SHE).

Bringing the concept of reuse to the forefront

The high profile 2010 Shanghai World Expo gave the project organizers a chance to promote some under-appreciated principles of sustainability: materials reuse and complex cooperation.

“Reuse is a strong tenet of sustainability. You have heard the mantra ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.’ Reuse typically does not get as much play as the other two, but it is probably the most powerful,” says Cindy Ma, project manager and founder of SHE Advisory.

According to Ryan Dick, architect and spokesperson for China's green materials database GIGA, reusing materials is more energy-efficient than recycling. Though challenging, reuse also has a beneficial effect at the building design stage, prompting architects to consider the entire life cycle of the built environment at the outset.

It’s crucial to "closing the loop" of construction, says Dick, so that waste is systematically reduced or even eliminated from the cycle.

“Given the high-profile nature of the Expo, we hoped to set an example and demonstrate a workable model for reuse that others may use,” adds Ma.

Coming together post-2010 Expo

The ambitious project tackled not only the technical challenge of reusing materials, but it also brought together a diverse group of collaborators. In addition to the NGOs, the school’s cooperation was also heavily needed, and engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff provided pro-bono expertise.

“Green solutions need multilateral cooperation, but there is not enough cross-sector facilitation,” says Peggy Liu, JUCCCE chairperson. “The Expo Reuse project shows how cooperation between actors from many different sectors can be successful if we understand their motivations and the key decision makers."

The Expo Reuse project shows how cooperation between actors from many different sectors can be successful if we understand their motivations and the key decision makers.— Peggy Liu, JUCCCE chairperson

Reuse and cross-sector collaborations face a number of problems in the current economy, which is amply demonstrated by the difficulties of this project: there was little upfront incentive on the one hand, and high costs on the other.

Project organizers faced copious amounts of Expo bureaucracy, which discouraged most of the 20 to 30 pavilions they approached from donating materials.

Custom duties on reclaimed materials as well as the fact that these are not designed for reuse made incorporating them into new designs difficult and expensive -- more expensive than using completely new materials.

According to Phillip Sohmen, principle of YK Pao, the school also made over 200 trips to the Expo site to oversee reclamation. All the organizations involved committed “countless man-hours” to the project.

Designing for the long term

These are common problems facing the spread of reuse.

Though reuse has great commercial potential, says Dick, that potential will not be realized until waste disposal becomes much more expensive. Meanwhile, repositories are needed as a middle man to buy materials at a higher rate than recyclers, and sell them at rates lower than market prices for completely new materials.

These are few and far between in China.

In spite of short-term costs, the project’s value lies in its long-term influence.

A highlight of the new campus will be an "Expo showcase" zone made up of the library, bookshop and coffee shop. 

A particularly high number of Expo items will be concentrated in these three buildings. Sohmen says this will educate students and visitors long into the future about environmental stewardship and international understanding. 

“All our students went to the Expo and visited some of the pavilions donating materials. It made them excited to learn more about the 2010 pavilions and those countries,” says Sohmen.

“It also gives them a demonstration that principles such as reuse can be put into practice. This is an important lesson for children in a time and place where society places a high value on the latest, shiniest thing.”

getting there

YK Pao School
No. 20, Lane 1251 Wuding Xi Lu, near Jiangsu Lu
定西路1251弄20号, 近江苏路
+86 21 6167 1999
www.ykpaoschool.cn

In three years in Shanghai, Nancy Zhang has written lifestyle, business and technical stories for a number of publications and interviewed hundreds of people in Shanghainese, Mandarin and English.
Read more about Nancy Zhang