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A view of the uninspiring US pavilion at Expo 2010 (P. Lopez/AFP/Getty Images) (via Boston Globe’s Big Picture)

If you’ve been looking at the spectacular photos coming out of Expo 2010, which opened in Shanghai last weekend, then you’re probably wondering the same thing everyone else is, “Wow, what a spectacular display of modern architecture and design, but … wait a minute, why does the United States pavilion suck so much?”

You can peruse the photos at the Boston Globe’s Big Picture photo column, “Shanghai’s Expo nearly ready,” and it’s obviously true. The reason behind America’s misstep on the world stage appears to be the result of a murky form of corruption.

In an article that appeared in Foreign Policy last March, Adam Minter investigates the flawed decision-making process that lead to this architectural dud, and sadly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is partly to blame:

On May 1, Expo 2010, the largest and most expensive world’s fair in history, will open on 2.5 square miles of prime Shanghai riverbank for a six-month run that its hosts hope will help bolster the city’s global reputation. Although largely overlooked by the American public, Expo 2010 has not been overlooked by the U.S. secretary of state’s office: For more than a year, Hillary Clinton has spent considerable time and effort raising private money to pay for the construction of a U.S. pavilion … Unfortunately, this particular effort at public diplomacy has faltered repeatedly; the behind-the-scenes saga may best be remembered for allegations of nepotism, frictions with the Chinese government and Expo organizers, and a mediocre, uninspiring pavilion design.

And more damning:

A senior editor at one state-owned publication in Shanghai, for example, recently told me that “everyone knows Ellen [Eliasoph, a current partner at Covington & Burling in Beijing and is the wife of a top US Commerce Department official,] got it because of her family connections.” True or not, this isn’t the image that the U.S. pavilion was supposed to embody.

The amazing thing is that the US pavilion’s design didn’t suffer from a lack of funds. It was originally budgeted at $75 – 100 million, came in at a cost of $60 million, even though most national pavilions at Expo 2010 cost $30 million.

Over at the Huffington Post, Bob Jacobson has also written a post about the debacle under the provocative headline, “‘Blackwatering’ Public Diplomacy: The US Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo.” He writes about what an Expo pavilion should convey and then points out:

The US Pavilion, however, honors none of these themes or stories. As many observers have already noted, laypersons as well as architects and planners, it’s the perfect embodiment of corporate America’s confused approach to current opportunities and impending crisis. It’s only about commerce, not quality, sustainability, or parsimony.

Expo 2010 represents one of the saddest moments for American architecture and design.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.