10/06/1955 - 28/08/1955
Modern Man in the Environment
H55 International Exhibition of Applied Arts of Housing and the Interior
The International Specialised Exhibition of architecture, industrial design and home furnishing, known as H55, was recognised by the 34rd General Assembly of the BIE on 4 November 1954. Held in the Swedish city of Helsingborg in 1955, the Expo was themed around ‘The modern man in the environment’ and dealt with the human environment, consumer and household goods, work, and relaxation. Its focus on modern design and architecture was aimed at showing the beauty of form, even for everyday items, while maximizing practicality.
The city of Helsingborg had previously hosted a major exhibition in 1903, with the benefits of this leading to the idea of organising another international exhibition. In September 1945, a committee was set up to begin planning the Expo.
The spirit of the 1950s post-war consensus inspired H55 in several ways. First, its focus on the practical and efficient use of building materials was meeting the needs for mass reconstruction of many European living spaces destroyed by war. In showing that simplicity, practicality and beauty are compatible, H55 also transpired a sense of post-war modernity and optimism.
The small but mighty exhibition experimented with new technologies, and building materials tailored to the needs of modern society. A variety of arts and crafts challenged the ways in which minimalistic designs could be integrated into commercial items and luxury goods. The Expo was held on a converted breakwater on the city’s waterfront, at the concert hall in the Groningen area, in the ‘Parapeten Restaurant’, and in three main pavilions designed by Swedish designer and architect Carl-Axel Acking.
Converting the windy and wave-battered breakwater into a successful and secure waterfront was a major undertaking. One significant issue was to connect the breakwater with the Groningen area. In order to resolve this issue, a military unit constructed a bridge which was used throughout the Expo.
Ten countries participated in the Expo, including Japan whose pavilion proved to be particularly popular with visitors. The French exhibition included the architectural works of acclaimed designer Le Corbusier ("The Radiant City" in Marseille), Pierre Vivien's work in Boulogne-sur-Mer, and Jean Prouvé's pre-packaged aluminium house. There were also arts and crafts including reproductions of works by Picasso, Vasarely and Manesier, as well as interior design objects and ceramics.
From Finland, design studio Artek had its own section presenting interior design projects by its founder Alvar Aalto. The display consisted of a fully furnished minimalist apartment based on apartments he had designed in Berlin.
The Swedish House, designed by the Swedish Association of Architects, showcased models of master plans and pictures of urban development plans for districts and individual houses. Visitors could explore different types of houses showcasing a variety of structures, purposes and building materials, including a collapsible house associated with personal freedom.
The Specialised Expo of 1955 was a veritable experimental playground for a number of internationally renowned architects and designers. Scandinavian designers in particular were well represented including Alvar Alto, Yngve Ekström, and Björn Hultén, whose iconic minimalist ‘H55 Lounge Chair’ is still very popular today.
Another object showcased at the Expo that went on to become internationally recognisable was the cardboard milk packaging system with triangular sides, developed by Swedish firm Tetra Pak. The inexpensive and practical packaging solution was an innovation in the 1950s, and went on to be adopted by the dairy industry across Europe.
H55 remains a historic event for the city of Helsingborg. Aside from the Parapeten restaurant, built as a permanent structure, the three main H55 Pavilions by Carl-Axel Acking were demolished after the exhibition. Later, in 1999, one of Acking’s pavilions was recreated for the ‘H99’ housing fair, whose name was inspired by the Expo of 1955.