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Thomas Heatherwick’s Seed Cathedral, the British pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010, has won the Lubetkin Prize for architecture.

Have you ever become so fixated on something that you stare at it for ages, hypnotized by its beauty, dreaming of ways you might one day be in the presence of your beloved, perhaps even touch that glowing surface? No, ladies, I'm not talking about Robert Pattinson. Go back to watching the Eclipse trailer.

The Seed Cathedral is the British pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010, and ever since it was unveiled last month it has seemed to me the most wondrous building in the world. Some learned minds must agree, because today it won architecture's equivalent of the Miss Universe contest (okay, it's formally known as the Lubetkin Prize, given each year to the best British-designed building in the world by the Royal Institute for British Architects.)

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Think of a sea anemone gently undulating underwater, or Albert Einstein's hair dancing in the wind, or a cubical Maltese terrier, and you'll have some idea of what the Seed Cathedral looks like (or just stare at it in motion, as I often do Designed by London's Heatherwick Studios, the pavilion is made of 60,000 fibre optic rods, each the length of three tall men, attached to a timber frame. The rods carry light into the building's interior and - in case you were wondering about the name - have at least one seed embedded in the tip.

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World expos like the one in Shanghai are always at least partly a boasting exercise - each country trying to outdo the others by flexing their skill and innovations. In this case, Britain has chosen to show off one of its finer achievements, the Millennium Seed Bank, which plans by the end of the next decade to have gathered samples of a quarter of the world's most threatened plants. The Seed Bank, in conjunction with China's Kunming Institute of Botany, provided the seeds for the fibre optic rods.

Thomas Heatherwick, the Seed Cathedral's architect, said he wanted to highlight the fact that London - contrary to its image as grimy and rather too full of humans - is actually one of the greenest cities on earth, in terms of public parks. So, beauty, idealism and pragmatism all gathered under one roof. It's time to book that ticket to Shanghai.

(Photo: Thomas Heatherwick's Seed Cathedral, the British pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010, has won the Lubetkin Prize for architecture)

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About the Author
Columnist and Feature Writer

Elizabeth Renzetti has worked at The Globe and Mail as a columnist, reporter, and editor of the Books and Review sections. From 2003 to 2012, she was a member of the Globe's London-based European bureau. Her Saturday column is published on page A2 of the news section, and her features appear regularly in Focus. More

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