It was 80 years ago today, on 30 November 1936, that the Crystal Palace in London was destroyed by a fire. Originally built as the centrepiece of the Great Exhibition of 1851 – the first ever World Expo – the historic building enjoyed a second life in Sydenham for 82 years before succumbing to its fate.
Designed by Joseph Paxton, the Crystal Palace was erected in Hyde Park in only five months, an amazing feat given its dimensions (563 metres long and 139 metres wide). With 84,000 m2 of plate glass used as the structure’s walls and ceilings, the Crystal Palace was an architectural marvel of its time and a symbol of the progress achieved under Queen Victoria’s reign.
Opening a World Expo is always a special moment as it marks the starting line for an event that will go onto attract millions of visitors from across the world. In 1933, Chicago wanted something electrifying to mark the opening of its “Century of Progress” Expo, a way to signal to participants and visitors how far the city had come since its establishment 100 years earlier.
While focused on technical innovation and the achievements of science and industry, Expo organisers also wanted to pay tribute to history, and notably to Expo 1893 – the World’s Columbian Exposition that was held in Chicago 40 years earlier. From these two considerations, a unique idea was born: to light up the Expo site using a beam of light that first left a star in 1893.
Expo 1988 Brisbane was a runaway success and a game changer for the City of Brisbane. Attracting more than 18 million visitors - more than the total population of Australia at the time - and visited by numerous Heads of State and opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Expo, with its friendly furry platypus mascot "Expo Oz" and theme song "Together, We'll Show the World" was 1788-1988 Bicentennial Australia's largest and most successful event, proudly presenting a modern and brash Brisbane to the world stage.
But what about what happened after Expo, and its "Post-Expo" legacy?
The Tower of the Sun, the iconic symbol of Expo 1970 Osaka, is to reopen to the public this weekend before undergoing structural renovations. Aside from certain rare occasions, the Tower has not been open for visits since the Expo closed over 46 years ago. This weekend’s exceptional opening will thus be a rare opportunity for visitors to rediscover the interior of the 70-metre tower, designed by Japanese artist Tarō Okamoto.
The Government of the Prefecture of Osaka initially planned for the totem-like tower to be open for one day only, asking members of the public to apply for the chance to be one of the 500 selected to visit. After over 40,000 applications were received, the Prefecture opted to extend the opening to the whole weekend, although places are still limited to 1,300. According to the Prefecture, many of those interested in visiting are from the older generation, suggesting a feeling of nostalgia from the days of the Expo.
I got a call while on break in Hawaii on the way home from Expo 1985 Tsukuba where I had served as U.S. Pavilion Exhibits Director asking me to be U.S. Pavilion Director for Expo 1986 Vancouver. I accepted and the family rerouted to Vancouver. Our two sons who had spent a year living in Japan now had to adjust to living in Vancouver. Arriving there in November of 1985, the Expo was already under construction and at that particular stage it echoed the appearance of Tsukuba coming down. It was a kind of déjà vu experience and a reminder of how close together Expos had been occurring.
Expo 86 took place between 2 May and 13 October 1986, and as it turned out this would be the last Expo in North America, although Calgary made a failed bid for 2005, and Edmonton for 2017, among others.
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