Expo curiosities

World expos are truly extravagant events. They have been compared to anything from Disneyland’, through vanity fair’ and tourist information show’ to architecture freak show’. Here is a round-up of five bizarre facts about World Fairs and five serious questions they pose to the upcoming Expo in Dubai in 2020:

  1. In 1992 Seville hosted the World Fair in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus. Over 100 countries were represented at the event. One of them offered what can literally be described as the biggest spelling lesson ever given. The facade of the Mexican pavilion featured a giant concrete ‘X’ in order to remind Spanish people that despite its silent pronunciation ‘Mexico’ is spelled with the letter ‘x’.On a more serious note, one may ask: ‘What are the lessons that Expo Dubai 2020 will teach humanity?’
  1. More bizarre things happened at the World Fair in Seville in 1992. Even though Andalusian summer is extremely hot, Expo 92 featured an actual iceberg. A 100-ton block of ice was the main attraction of Chile’s pavilion. It was shipped from Chile’s Antarctic territory to Seville and then, at the end of the 6-month event, taken all the way back. Official rhetoric linked the iceberg to Chile’s natural diversity and beauty. The endeavor was also supposed to gain the respect of the trade world – according to the pavilion’s director carrying an iceberg to the opposite end of the globe was a proof that Chileans could transport any goods with remarkable efficiency and could, therefore, trade with the entire world.This wasn’t the first time Universal expositions displayed weird and faraway objects. Two of the main attractions at Expo Osaka 70 were a real moon rock from the Apollo 11 lunar mission and the skull of the oldest man on earth (known at that time) [2].

    In that train of thought, one wonders: ‘Will Expo Dubai 2020 deliver something we have never seen before?’

  1. The World Fair in Osaka presented not only some peculiar objects but also some unexpected themes – for example a whiskey producing company built a pavilion under the name “Water of Life”. The national gas association chose the topic “World of Laughter” while the contribution of Sumitomo – an international trading and bank corporation pavilion – was called ‘Fairytale pavilion’ and was made up of flying saucer-like structures [1]. The eccentricity and futuristic presence of the event were so remarkable, that Expo 70 quickly became part of pop culture in Japan and the rest of the world. The site was featured heavily in manga, anime and movies. In Noriaki Yuasa’s film Gamera vs. Jiger (1970) monsters invade the Expo 70 site.In this regard, it is only natural to ponder: ‘Will Expo Dubai 2020 inspire popular culture, art and films?’
  1. At the world Fair in Montreal in 1967 Moshe Safdie fulfilled the dream of every student of architecture. The famous Habitat 67 was actually the architect’s master thesis project designed in 1961 during his studies at McGill University. Today, the project is regarded both as a failure and a success. While it did not manage to revolutionize prefabrication, it did redefine the concept of urban living. The building still serves as a residential complex and continues to influence residential architecture worldwide.Looking at this brave experiment in residential architecture, a question arises: ‘Will Expo Dubai 2020 be more than a fancy exposition or will it become just another expensive trade show?’
  2. The latest World Fair was hosted by Milan in 2015 and focused the public’s attention on the theme ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’. Unsurprisingly, some extraordinary or even prohibited dishes were served at the Expo site – for example crocodile meat, puffer fish, snake wine, sardinian suckling pig, dried termites and more [3]. While Expo Milan 15 provided interesting food options, its uninventive architecture and overall concept prompted one of its own masterplanners Jacques Herzog [4] to call it ‘the same kind of vanity fair that we’ve seen in the past’.Leaving the fancy dishes from the Milan World Fair aside, one wonders: ‘Will Expo Dubai 2020 serve the profession and the public more food for thought?’

[1] Earth Station 9: The World’s Fair and Exposition Information and Reference Guide
[2] When the future was still the future: Osaka Expo 1970
[3] Growing Leader: Ten facts on Expo Milan 2015
[4] ArchDaily: Jacques Herzog, Masterplanner of the Milan 2015 Expo, Thinks it will be a “Vanity Fair”


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