The Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) is the intergovernmental organisation in charge of overseeing and regulating World Expos, Specialised Expos, Horticultural Expos and the Triennale di Milano.
85 years ago today, Expo 1935 Brussels opened its doors to visitors from all over Europe and the world. Here are a few facts about the World Expo that you might not have known:
Widely known as La Ville Lumière or the ‘City of Lights’, Paris is famed for its streetlights, first tested in the late 18th century and which became a symbol of the city during the Belle Époque. It was when the whole world was in Paris, during World Expo 1878, that one of the most advanced forms of electrical lighting of its time – the Yablochkov candle – made its debut.
Taking place in the world’s largest economy and in midst of the second industrial revolution, World Expo 1904 St. Louis introduced many new technologies and innovations to the public. One of these innovations was the X-ray machine, a fledgling technology that has revolutionised healthcare.
Most modern products are the result of years of continuous innovations. The washing machine is one such product. For years, innovators have been looking into this household chore to save time, energy and water. One of these innovators, Richard Lansdale, took the opportunity to showcase his creation – the Compound Rotary Washing Machine – at World Expo 1862 in London.
In 2020, voice recognition technology can be used by anyone with a smartphone. Back in the 1960s, the idea of a human operating a machine by using vocal commands seemed like science fiction. Visitors to World Expo 1962 Seattle – the Space Age Expo - were therefore amazed by IBM’s Shoebox – an early computer that responded to voice controls.
World Expo 2005 Aichi, which opened its gates 15 years ago today, was the venue for numerous technological innovations, including the Super Hi-Vision Theater - where the public was introduced to what is commonly known as Ultra HDTV for the first time.
The chances are that most people reading this blog post are doing so via a touchscreen, a ubiquitous part of modern life whether it be on phones, tablets, or supermarket checkouts. Though it is very much a 21st century phenomenon, the history of the touchscreen goes back decades, with Expo 1982 Knoxville being the venue for the first public showcase of this technology.
Inventors and entrepreneurs have long been hoping to harness the power of the sun as a long-term source of sustainable energy. French mathematics professor Augustin Mouchot was a precursor, when he first demonstrated the potential of this form of energy, showcasing the parabolic solar collector, at World Expo 1878 in Paris.
Present in thousands of everyday products, rubber is ubiquitous in the modern world. While it has been used in its natural form for thousands of years, it was only after the development of vulcanisation by American inventor Charles Goodyear – showcased with grandeur at World Expo 1851 London – that rubber became the widespread material it is today.
Celebrating the 100th anniversary of American Independence, World Expo 1876 Philadelphia introduced the public to a multitude of innovations, including the Sholes & Glidden typewriter, sold under the brand name Remington No. 1. While other typewriters had already been produced, the Remington No. 1 was the first to be a commercial success and the first ever to feature the Qwerty format keyboard.
In an era of rapid technological change and regularly updated devices, it is easy to underestimate the revolutionary impact of new inventions in the late 19th century. At World Expo 1878 Paris, one such invention - Thomas Edison’s phonograph, capable of recording and playing back sound – seemed so amazing to visitors that many were convinced it was a fake.
With Expos serving as a showcase for the creativity and technological innovation of their participating countries, pavilions provides an ideal element to combine both unique design and technical prowess. Such was the case with Germany’s pavilion at World Expo 2015 Milan, which boldly incorporated organic photovoltaics (OPV) – an exciting and rapidly developing form of solar power – into the structure of its “Field of Dreams” themed pavilion.
Heralding the “World of Tomorrow”, World Expo 1939 New York introduced the public to a wide range of consumer goods, offering a modern new era of accessible comfort. Among these new products were nylon stockings, an innovative item of clothing that went on to revolutionise wardrobes and fashion.
Without mobile phones, modern society would not be the same. Fifty years ago, visitors to World Expo 1970 Osaka had the first opportunity to discover what this technology offered, giving them a glimpse into a much more connected – and mobile – future.
In a world in which images and videos can be shared instantaneously to an unlimited audience, it is difficult to imagine how events were communicated and consumed by the public without modern technology. In the case of live television broadcasting, a major milestone was made with the first live address on the occasion of the opening ceremony of World Expo 1939 New York.
Expos create opportunities for businesses to stand out. They provide a unique platform to showcase new products, to measure up the competition, to be in direct contact with consumers and to test new tactics. For one particularly well-known company – Heinz – three Expos in the late 19th century marked the expansion of the small-scale family firm to a global player.
After IMAX at Expo 1970 Osaka, the A to Z of Innovations at Expos moves to another technology for public entertainment that was also launched at an Expo in Japan. This time, it was at Expo 1985 Tsukuba, and the innovation was the Jumbotron, the name for the giant screens that can be found in stadiums and major events venues around the world.
Among the many ways in which Expos have been at the forefront of innovations in public entertainment, the worldwide début of IMAX cinema at Expo 1970 Osaka is one of the most significant.
Marking the centenary of the French Revolution and centred around the monumental Eiffel Tower, World Expo 1889 in Paris was a hotbed of ambitious ideas. One of these, though it received little attention at the time, was the concept of hydroelectricity, presented by French engineer Aristide Bergès.
From the mid 19th century, industrial advancements led to a race to develop higher performance engines in order to move beyond the practical constraints of coal-powered steam engines. At Expo 1867 Paris, much of the focus was on the gas engine, where a newcomer – the Otto-Langen atmospheric engine – drew praise for its innovative efficiency.
Improvements in communications are often some of the most fascinating innovations showcased at World Expos, offering visitors a vision of a future where interactions across the world will be quicker and easier. This was the case as early as the first Expo – the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London – where an early version of the fax machine was on display.
When thinking about an electric car, most people would cast their minds to a recent invention, with new electric-powered vehicles growing in popularity as fossil fuels are replaced with greener alternatives. Few would think that electric cars go back more than a century, with one model in particular by Lohner-Porsche being the centre of the show at World Expo 1900 in Paris.
One of the three subthemes of Expo 2020 Dubai is Mobility – looking at the different ways humankind has moved around and explored. At Expo 1867 Paris, one form of mobility was advanced by the inspired creation of Benoit Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze: the diving suit.
Expo 1970 Osaka – the first World Expo held in Asia – was a showcase of Japan’s rapid growth and its status as a country of technological innovation. Among the many cutting-edge creations on display, the Expo’s official clock system was one of the most impressive.
As well as the many cutting-edge technologies introduced at Expos over the years, some more ordinary – but not less important – items of daily wear have also made their début, including the bra.
From cordless elevators to machines that make water from thin air, visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai, can expect to discover a myriad of cutting-edge technologies that will shape the future, just as visitors to past Expos were offered a glimpse of what was to come.
The last week of this A to Z of Expo architects is dedicated to Eberhard Zeidler, who designed the Canada Pavilion for Specialised Expo 1986 Vancouver, in partnership with Barry Downs.
Taking the Y position in the list of Expo Architects is Seattle-born Minoru Yamasaki, who made his breakthrough as an architect by designing the US Science Pavilion for World Expo 1962 in his home city.
This week, the A to Z of Expo Architects turns its focus to Greek-French composer, architect and director Iannis Xenakis, who created the revolutionary Philips Pavilion at World Expo 1958 in partnership with Le Corbusier.
Taking the W spot on the Expo Architects list is André Waterkeyn, a Belgian metallurgical engineer turned architect who teamed up with his brothers-in-law André and Jean Polak to design the centrepiece of World Expo 1958 Brussels: the Atomium.
Venezuelan architect and activist José “Fruto” Vivas occupies the V spot in the A to Z series. Already celebrated in his home country for his bold creations such as the Club Táchira, Vivas was selected to design Venezuela’s Pavilion at World Expo 2000 Hannover.
Austrian-Australian architect, illustrator and set designer Joseph Urban takes the ‘U’ position of Expo Architects for his contribution to World Expo 1933 Chicago. Already known around the world for his vivid creations – including Austria’s pavilion at Expo 1904 St. Louis - Urban created Expo 1933’s dazzling exterior colour scheme and devised its lighting strategy, an essential aspect of the Art Deco style that was the hallmark of the event.
Kenzō Tange, one of Japan’s leading architects of the 20th century, occupies the T position in the A to Z of Expo Architects. Known for combining Japanese traditions and Western influences in his celebrated urban projects, the Pritzker laureate was the main planner for World Expo 1970 Osaka and designed the Expo’s mammoth Festival Plaza.
Israeli-Canadian architect, urban planner and author Moshe Safdie is in the spotlight for this week’s instalment of the A to Z of Expo Architects for designing the Habitat 67 urban residential complex for World Expo 1967 Montreal.
German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe stands out for defining his own architectural style that, combining clarity and simplicity, reshaped 21st century styles. As a pioneer of modern architecture, the last director of the Bauhaus school takes the R spot in the A to Z series for creating Germany’s remarkable pavilion at World Expo 1929 Barcelona.
Italian urbanist and architect Ludovico Quaroni takes this week’s spot on the list of Expo Architects for his contribution to Italy’s pavilion at World Expo 1958 Brussels.
Known for his use of vernacular models in urban projects and a preference for traditional designs over monumental architecture, Quaroni was one of nine architects who contested the Italian Government’s competition to showcase a modern and resurging Italy at Expo 1958. The group of architects instead came together to create a resolutely anti-modernist project, demonstrating an act of insubordination while reflecting the tense climate that dominated architectural debate in the post-war era.
It is a British gardener and greenhouse builder – Joseph Paxton – who occupies the “P” spot of the A to Z of Expo Architects series for his major contribution to industrial-era building design. Celebrated as a horticulturalist in his own right (he notably created the Cavendish banana), Paxton planned the Crystal Palace as the exhibition hall for Expo 1851 London, the first ever World Expo.
Engineer, architect and pioneer of tensile structures, Frei Otto takes the “O” spot for this week’s A to Z of Expo Architects. Rising to fame for designing the Federal Republic of Germany’s revolutionary pavilion at World Expo 1967 Montreal, Otto later added to his Expo contribution by co-designing Japan’s iconic paper pavilion at World Expo 2000 Hannover.
In 2022, the Netherlands will host its seventh Horticultural Expo (‘Floriade’) in the city of Almere, in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, under the theme “Growing Green Cities”. With preparations now well underway, and with the Holland Garden at Expo 2019 Beijing currently showcasing this theme, Peter Verdaasdonk, CEO of Floriade Expo 2022 Amsterdam-Almere, outlines his vision for the event.
One of the fathers of modern architecture, a Pritzker Prize laureate and a key figure in the development of Brasilia, Oscar Niemeyer is in the spotlight for this week’s instalment of the Expo Architects A to Z.
Selected to design the pavilion of his home country, at World Expo 1939 New York, Niemeyer created a unique vision of “Brasilidade”, portraying the country’s modernity to an American audience while remaining committed to Brazil’s own identity.
The M spot of the A-Z of Expo Architects series is occupied by Imre Makovecz, a major figure of organic architecture and first President of the Hungarian Academy of Arts. Marginalised by authorities from 1976 until the end of the 1980s, Makovecz was commissioned to design the country’s pavilion at World Expo 1992 Seville, which perfectly encapsulated his compelling idiosyncratic and organic style.
Renowned Polish-American architect, artist and designer Daniel Libeskind occupies the L spot in the A to Z series. For World Expo 2015 Milan, Libeskind’s studio created not only a corporate pavilion for Chinese property developer Vanke, but also the four gleaming gate-like structures in the heart of Piazza Italia – ‘The Wings’.
A well-established figure for the daring and spectacular shapes of his designs, Libeskind teamed up with Vanke to create a pavilion that developed Expo 2015’s theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, and which showcased green technology and sustainability, both in its form and its content.
Taking the letter K in the Expo Architects series is Kisho Kurokawa, a leading figure in Japanese architecture of the 20th century who pioneered organic structures. At Osaka’s futuristic World Expo 1970, Kurokawa designed three pavilions: the Capsule House theme pavilion, the Takara Beautilion pavilion and the Toshiba-IHI pavilion.
Seattle’s World Expo 1962 is known for celebrating the Space Age and for putting Seattle on the map, notably with the construction of the Space Needle. More than this, the Century 21 Exposition was also a venue for showcasing innovations and offering visitors a glimpse of what the future had in store.
One of these innovations was the first ever cordless telephone, specially created so as to allow calls to be made from the Space Needle’s revolving restaurant without the complication of cables. The futuristic cordless phones were a hit with the public, but would not become commonplace for another several years.
After BIG’s pavilion for Denmark at Expo 2010 Shanghai, this week’s instalment of the A-Z of Expo Architects has only a short distance to go, with Finland’s pavilion, designed by Helsinki-based architectural group JKMM, situated a stone’s throw away.
Winning a tough competition with over 100 entries, JKMM – composed of Asmo Jaaksi, Teemu Kurkela, Samuli Miettinen and Juha Mäki-Jyllilä – created a pavilion that offered a microcosm of Finnish society, responding to the theme of Expo 2010 Shanghai, “Better City, Better Life”. Dubbed “Kirnu”, meaning Giant’s Kettle, the pavilion was inspired by the many large cavities cut into bedrock that form a key part of Finland’s geography.
Perhaps the youngest architect featuring on this A-Z series, Bjarke Ingels had nevertheless already made a name for himself when at 35 years old, he created, Denmark’s enchanting pavilion for World Expo 2010 Shanghai.
Having created his own architectural office (Bjarke Ingels Group – BIG) in 2006, Ingels was selected, with 2+1 and Arup, to design his home country’s pavilion at the first World Expo to take place in China. The architect and his team took an unconventional yet perceptive approach to the challenge: showcasing the virtues of urban life in Denmark via a 3,000m2 temporary building.
Opening on 30 April 1939, New York’s World Expo 1939 promoted “Building the World of Tomorrow” in a period marked by the Great Depression and spectre of upcoming war. While many futuristic pavilions and displays enthralled visitors, one of the most outlandish was ‘The Dream of Venus’, a surrealist funhouse created by Salvador Dalí. On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Expo and the 30th anniversary of the artist’s death, Montse Aguer, the Director of the Dalí Museums, recounts how the pavilion transgressed the modernism of the Expo and explains the significance of this work to Dali’s personal vision.
Taking the “H” spot on the Expo Architects list is the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Prize, acclaimed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.
Renowned for her bold, curvaceous buildings that blend in with the local environment, one of Hadid’s most outstanding creations is the Bridge Pavilion, built for Specialised Expo 2008 Zaragoza.
Creating magnificent structures for Expos is not only a question of design, it is also one of overcoming obstacles, building under various constraints, and pushing boundaries in the use of innovative techniques and approaches. This is notably the case for Charles Girault, who took on the hefty task of coordinating three separate designs in order to build an enchanting palace of fine arts – the Grand Palais - for Expo 1900 Paris.
With its impressive glass nave rising between the Champs-Elysées and the Seine River, the Grand Palais was built following a long selection process in which it was decided to combine the three winning entries by Henri-Adolphe Deglane, Albert Louvet and Albert Thomas. Charles Girault was given the responsibility of overseeing and supervising the mammoth project – and reconciling the designs of all architects involved.
Following on from Gustave Eiffel, the A to Z of Expo Architects moves on to another groundbreaking designer who made waves for his original and bold creations: Richard Buckminster Fuller.
Perhaps as celebrated for his unbuilt projects as for the structures that saw the light of day, one of Fuller’s most iconic creations is World Expo 1967 Montreal’s United States’ pavilion, the largest geodesic dome at the time of more than half a sphere, today known as the Biosphere.