Lea Petrović Krajnik
Ph.D., Architect, Assistant Professor at the Department of Urban Planning, Spatial Planning and Landscape Architecture, Faculty of Architecture, University of Zagreb, Croatia

The organisation of large events, including World Expos, can significantly affect the urban landscape of the host city and region. The intensity of the changes depends on a number of factors, especially the size of the city and the degree to which it is equipped with transport infrastructure and other facilities relevant to events.

In addition, it should be emphasised that, in relation to other types of major events, World Expos have the longest duration (lasting up to 6 months) and attract the largest number of visitors (World Expo 2010 Shanghai attracted 73,085,000 visitors). Therefore, many interventions and activities are needed to successfully organise such events, which often bring about changes in some urban landscape components.

The study of the urban landscape, which is often known as “urban morphology”, has been attracting the interest of scholars in a number of fields: geography, urban planning, architecture and history. Urban morphology refers to "the study of the physical (or built) fabric of urban form, and the people and processes shaping it". According to M.R.G. Conzen, it is "the physiognomy of a town or the urban landscape, being the combination of three systematic form complexes, i.e. town plan, building fabric and land use", while in the Oxford English Dictionary “townscape” is defined as "the visual appearance of a town".

Although the urban landscape components include the people and processes shaping it, this article focuses on the perception of changes in the physical characteristics of components such as infrastructure, suprastructure and ecostructure made in preparation for Expos.

Expos as an incentive for urban development

As early as the 19th century, World Expos were used as an incentive for faster development and change in the overall image of a city. One can highlight the World Expos in Vienna in 1873 and Barcelona in 1888, where the planning of these major events was closely related to the development of the host city. The organisation of the World Expo in Vienna considerably stimulated the resolution of the issue of traffic in the city, whereas the plans for organising the exhibition contributed to a faster implementation of planned projects and to the presentation of Vienna as a European metropolis. The main goal of World Expo 1888 Barcelona was the transformation of Barcelona from a provincial town into a European metropolis of industrial, commercial and cultural significance. In the preparatory period of the exhibition, numerous projects were carried out in its urban landscape, which provided Barcelona with a new image.

"As early as the 19th century, World Expos were used as an incentive for faster development and change in the overall image of a city"

During the 20th century, organising World Expos in many cases served as a means of implementing city and regional development plans so that major events became an instrument of city and regional development strategies. From the end of the 19th to the second half of the 20th century, Brussels organised five Expos that had a significant impact on the development of its urban landscape. The selection of exhibition locations correlated with the city’s expansion tendencies and helped stimulate urban development in the directions that were slower to develop.

Häuβermann & Siebel (1993) discuss a new policy type: "Politik der Groβen Ereignisse – Politik der Festivalisierung". They consider that large projects can affirm the competence of political actions and connect the heterogeneous interests of the majority, since it is difficult to formulate a long-term policy of the majority due to society’s structure and its problems. Thus, World Expo 1992 in Seville linked heterogeneous interests and became the accelerator of urban and regional development of the host, with an emphasis on the overall modernisation of the region and the city, the definition of the model of urban development, the improvement of economic development and the restoration of its former economic significance.

Since the beginning of the 1980s, the criterion of using the exhibition area in the post-Expo period has become increasingly important. In parallel with the planning of a large event, companies (e.g. Cartuja 93, S.A. in Seville, Parque Expo, S.A. in Lisbon) were founded with the aim of achieving the most successful structural and functional conversion of the Expo site after the completion of the event and its integration into the urban landscape.

"Changes in the urban landscape brought by 21st century Expos are based primarily on the principles of sustainability and sustainable development"

The question is how and to what extent Expos bring about changes in Expo cities and to overall development in the 21st century. As one of the basic goals of Expos organised under the auspices of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) is the renewal of the host city (besides reinforcing international relations, sharing culture and education, encouraging development, working for the environment and experimenting with the future), organising Expos will certainly continue to have a significant effect on changes in the physical appearance of the host city and the region.

If we consider changes in the urban landscape brought about during the preparations for 21st century Expos, we can conclude that they are based primarily on the principles of sustainability and sustainable development. Expos continue to be the platform for sharing ideas, concepts and global visions with an emphasis on the long-term harmonisation of technological development and environmental protection, and remain a platform for raising awareness and educating people. In the preparatory period for Expo 2000 in Hannover, the first phase of the Kronsberg housing project was completed as an example of an ecological housing development conceived on the principles of sustainable development and Agenda 21 from the Rio de Janeiro conference. The sustainability principle was applied using a special planning procedure to set compulsory targets and quality standards.

In addition to numerous other interventions, Expo 2010 Shanghai enabled the transformation of a brownfield area of 523 ha in the very heart of the city, the largest Expo site in the history of World Expos. Furthermore, a significant document was adopted: the Shanghai Manual - a practical guide for sustainable urban development in the 21st century, which will affect our approach to the urban landscape.

On the occasion of Expo 2015 Milan, Expo 2015 S.p.A. paid close attention to the sustainability of the event, which resulted in various programmes and projects through all stages of the preparation and implementation of events based on the social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability. Priority was given to environmental sustainability and the use of advanced methods and technologies in the construction of the Expo site, as well as in organising the event.

Interventions in the urban landscape of Expo cities

In the preparatory period of the event, local authorities, in cooperation with regional and state authorities and private investors, carry out numerous interventions in Expo cities, primarily with the aim of successfully realising such a major event. The interventions that are implemented can be divided in general into interventions directly related to the event and those that are indirectly related to the event. Interventions directly related to the event only relate to the development and construction of the Expo site and interventions that contribute to the accessibility of the exhibition areas from the city and region. In addition, there is the construction of accommodation for representatives of participating countries, so-called Expo villages that are located in the city, and also in the region (Expo City in Mairena de Aljarafe, located 15km from the Expo 1992 site). The interventions indirectly related to the event are those whose realisation is induced by the event but are not exclusively related to the organisation of the event itself, i.e. the event could be successfully realised without them.

Considering the urban landscape, its components and the changes in them that result from the organisation of an Expo, we first notice two specific forms of intervention regarding spatial distribution - concentrated and dispersed. Concentrated interventions relate to the Expo site. Interventions on the Expo site, due to the size which varies depending on the Expo type (up to 25 ha for Specialised Expos and no size limit for World Expos, according to BIE rules) and depending on the concept of the Expo project, usually contribute most to changes in the urban tissue. Dispersed interventions in the urban landscape relate to interventions whose location is not linked to the Expo site itself and may be directly or indirectly related to the organisation of the event. Those interventions can also significantly change the urban landscape of the Expo city.

The Expo site

The Expo site can be considered to be a set of major constituents of the urban landscape where the largest number of interventions directly related to the events are concentrated. The selection of the Expo site location is a very important factor that influences the success of the Expo itself, the success of the area transformation in the post-Expo period, and its integration into the urban tissue. The host city and region coordinate the drafting of location selection studies to evaluate the optimum position for the planned event. In practice, urban planning and architectural design competitions for the subject area are held in order to obtain optimal solutions, on the basis of which spatial planning documentation is drawn up. Thus, in the selection of the World Expo 2000 site in Hannover, various models and locations were explored: decentralised locations in the city and region, the Mittelland Canal, the River Leine and the Messe/Kronsberg area.

For Specialised Expo 1998 in Lisbon, studies were carried out to examine a regional location as a crown around the city that includes the Setúbal peninsula, a location on the west coast with a possibly complementary area in Porto Brandão, or a location on the eastern coastal zone that was finally selected as the Expo 1998 site.

"Parque das Nações has become a new multifunctional focus of Lisbon and its surrounding region"

Areas selected for Expos are often abandoned industrial areas, unconsolidated areas on the outskirts of the city or areas with similar functions which are extended for the purpose of a large event. On the occasion of organising Expo 1998 in Lisbon, a structural and functional transformation of an abandoned industrial area in the eastern coastal zone (the so-called Intervention Zone, today known as Parque das Nações) was carried out. Parque das Nações (350 ha), within which the Expo 1998 site was located, has become a new multifunctional focus of Lisbon and its surrounding region. In Brussels, World Expo 1958 was held in the Heysel plateau, on the same location as the previous Expo in 1935, but for the needs of Expo 1958, the exhibition site was extended to Parc de Laeken. Expo 1992 in Seville was held in Isla de la Cartuja, which was until then an unregulated area near the city centre. Thanks to the event, it was integrated into the urban landscape of Seville. In Hannover, Expo 2000 integrated and expanded the area of the Hannover Trade Fair (Expo West) and connected it through the newly built Expo Ost with the landscape of Kronsberg.

For the requirements of these large events, Expo sites are equipped with all necessary infrastructure, suprastructure and ecostructure. Depending on the concept of the Expo and the use of the exhibition area in the post-Expo period, the suprastructure remains a permanent legacy or is removed and perhaps used at some other location. In the post-Expo period, the Expo site can be used for various purposes depending on the vision and concept of the long-term use of the space. According to the BIE rules, the use of the Expo site in the post-Expo period should be determined in the preparatory period of the event.

During the urban planning and architectural competition for the Expo 1992 site Master Plan, the long-term use of the site in the post-Expo period was proposed. The General Plan of the Expo site (Plan Director de la Expo 1992) and the development plan of the entire Island of Cartuja (Plan Especial del sector S.1 del Actur La Cartuja) were adopted that defined the use of the Island of Cartuja in the Expo and post-Expo period. An international interdisciplinary group of scientists, under the leadership of Peter Hall and Manuel Castells, were gathered to determine strategy parameters for the post-Expo use of the Expo site, with an accent on its social and cultural significance for the city. In the post-Expo period, the Technopolis, a scientific and technological park, was developed with a university centre and cultural, administrative and leisure facilities.

During the preparatory period for Expo 1998 in Lisbon, after the completion of studies and competitions, the urban development plan of the eastern Intervention Zone (Plan de urbanização) was drawn up in parallel and in coordination with strategic and municipal planning documentation. The Intervention Zone was regulated by six legally binding land-use plans (Planos de pormenor), which were administrative instruments for the management of the project. The legally binding land use plans, providing for varied usage of the area (housing, public and social facilities, mixed use, commercial and business use and parks), provided for adaptability depending on new needs and opportunities in the post-exhibition period.

Transport infrastructure

Transport infrastructure is one of the basic formative elements of the urban landscape, a fundamental determinant of development and relations at the local, regional, national and international level. It is also an important identifying factor and plays an important role in organising functional relationships in space. Transport infrastructure is closely related to the accessibility criterion of the area and is the most important selection factor for the location of major events. During the event, there is an increased number of visitors who intensify the usage of transport infrastructure in the host city and region. For the successful running of the event, it is necessary to ensure good accessibility to the Expo site by means of public transport. Additionally, the development and strengthening of public transport use contributes to sustainable development.

In the preparatory period of the event, a large number of interventions, directly or indirectly related to the event, are completed in road infrastructure, either building new infrastructure or modernising existing infrastructure. Here, for example, we can mention the Expo Ring that connects the site of Expo 2000 Hannover to a fast city road and enables its integration into the city and regional road transport system. Numerous interventions were carried out on the road infrastructure in Seville and Lisbon, enabling the connection of the cities to the wider metropolitan area. In Lisbon, a new 17km-long bridge, Ponte Vasco da Gama, was built, and Ponte 25 de Abril was renewed, thus improving the links between Lisbon and the Setúbal Peninsula.

"Expo 1958 in Brussels gave the final impetus for the realisation of the long-awaited connection between the Gare du Nord and Gare du Midi"

Many interventions are also made to rail infrastructure, contributing to changes in the urban landscape. Expo 1958 in Brussels gave the final impetus for the realisation of the long-awaited connection between the Gare du Nord and Gare du Midi terminuses that resulted in the construction of Gare Centrale. In Seville, a large number of projects were carried out at the city, regional and national level, while in the immediate vicinity of the Expo 1992 site, the high-speed AVE railway station was built, enabling a direct link between the Expo site and Madrid. In Lisbon, along with interventions at the city and regional level, the multimodal Oriente station (designed by Santiago Calatrava) was built next to the Expo 1998 site, and became the point of convergence of all types of public transport (metro, rail, bus and taxi). The new Hannover/Messe/Laatzen station for ICE trains (designed by Büro Gössler) was also built next to the Expo 2000 site. The railway infrastructure network at the city and regional level was modernised and renewed, and the tram network was extended towards the southeastern part of the city, Kronsberg and Expo Ost.

On the occasion of organising Expos, air traffic infrastructure is modernised and extended. This is an opportunity for cities to increase the capacity of their airports. Expo 1992 is a notable example, where during the preparatory period, interventions were made not only at San Pablo airport in Seville, enabling the handling of a larger number of passengers, but also elsewhere in Andalusia at Málaga and Jerez de la Frontera airports.

Bridges are also an important element of the urban tissue. Expos are incentives for building new and modernising existing bridges (pedestrian, road and railway). In Hannover, 20 new bridges were built across the Mittelland Canal, which until then was a barrier in space. For Expo 1992, interventions were carried out on 10 bridges in Seville, ensuring a good link between the site and the centre, with the bridges becoming new symbols of the city.


The suprastructure, a significant component of the urban landscape, is a place for satisfying the needs of residents, users and visitors of a given space. Expos attract many visitors who require adequate accommodation and facilities to meet their cultural, sporting, entertainment and other needs. Alongside Expos, numerous accompanying events (cultural, scientific, professional, sports and entertainment) take place in the city and the region that contribute to the quality of life. In planning, designing and setting the dimensions of a new suprastructure, the justification criterion is of great importance, and this can be met in the short and/or long-term. During the preparatory period, a new suprastructure is built or the existing one is modernised in direct or indirect relation to the Expo and its accompanying events. For example, in Hannover, there were over 20,000 supporting events during the 153 days of Expo 2000. The 12th Conference of the Council of Europe Ministers of Responsibility for Spatial Planning (CEMAT) was held during Expo 2000 in Hannover with the theme "Guiding Principles for Sustainable Spatial Development of the European Continent".

Expos can be an incentive for the revitalisation of the entire historic nucleus of host cities and for their cultural heritage in general. Expo '92 in Seville was an instrument for the reconstruction of the historic nucleus (786 ha), with the emphasis on the realisation of integral plans for the reconstruction of city districts, sacred buildings and dilapidated building stock in the city core.

Changes in the urban landscape are also manifested through the construction of new residential developments. In Hannover, the Kronsberg residential development was built on an area that had been earmarked for expansion and construction since the 1970s, located close to the Expo 2000 site. The housing estate, built according to the principles of sustainable development and in line with the Agenda 21 guidelines, was designed for 15,000 inhabitants with 6,000 residential units and is equipped with all necessary complementary facilities (a school, nursery school, social and cultural centre, church, health centre and parks). When Expo 2000 opened, 2,600 apartments and 240 terraced houses had been built, of which 1,063 housing units were used for the purpose of accommodating Expo 2000 employees.

"Expos can be an incentive for the revitalisation of the entire historic nucleus of host cities"

In accordance with the legally binding land use plans, in the Intervention Zone north of the Expo 1998 Lisbon site, a new housing complex was built, which during Expo 1998 was used for the accommodation of delegations and exhibition staff. The urban complex, called Villa Expo, consisted of blocks of flats with a capacity of 2,025 beds and auxiliary facilities. The complex was equipped with regular transport and had a club house with facilities for recreation and entertainment (a gym, swimming pool, tennis courts and other services). The residential complex, which was built during the preparation period for the mega-event, is still zoned for residential use in the post-Expo period.

The construction of a new suprastructure for public and social facilities, commercial or business facilities or the expansion of existing ones also leads to changes in urban landscape components. Interventions, directly or indirectly related to a major event, can be concentrated on and around the Expo site or dispersed in the wider area of the city. Some of them, such as the Utopia Pavilion / Atlantic Pavilion / Meo Arena / Altice Arena (designed by Region Cruz and SOM), the Ocean Pavilion / Oceanarium (designed by Peter Chermayeff, Peter Sollugub, Bobby Poole and Ginette Castro) in Lisbon, or Teatro de la Maestranza (designed by Aurelio del Pozo and Luís María) and Torre Triana (designed by Francisco J. Saénz de Oíza) in Seville, have become new and distinctive elements of their urban tissue.

Significant funds are also invested in the construction and renovation of hotels and other types of accommodation for Expo visitors, located in the city and its metropolitan region. Thus, in Seville, 16 new hotels were built as short-term accommodation for Expo 1992, notably the Principe de Asturias hotel next to the Expo site (today the Gran Hotel Renacimiento). In the period from 1990 to 1998 in Lisbon, 21 hotels were built and remodelled in the city area, with two hotels close to the Expo 1998 site: Hotel Tryp Oriente and Hotel Tivoli.


Ecostructure is one of the most important elements of the urban landscape that functionally and visually contributes to the integration of all elements of the urban tissue. Apart from being an essential element of sustainable development, the ecostructure is a significant place for social interaction that makes multiple contributions to the improvement of culture and quality of life. Landscaped areas shape the city image and contribute to its recognisability. During transformation and/or expansion, landscaped areas play an important role in the establishment of balanced and environmentally acceptable relations between built and unbuilt areas.

In the preparatory period of Expos, landscaping projects are carried out on the Expo site or around the city and region. These newly-created elements contribute to the image of the city and the region, to the identity of space and to the overall quality of life. In Lisbon, 11 landscaping projects of different types were carried out for the purpose of Expo 1998, occupying 40% of the Parque das Nações. Parque do Tejo (designed by landscape architects Hargreaves and João Nunes) stands out due to its size (around 100 ha) and its importance as a place of rest and recreation for the Lisbon metropolitan region.

Within the "Stadt als Garden" project as part of Expo 2000 in Hannover, a large number of projects spaces were carried out in the city and on the Expo site for the improvement of existing public spaces or the building of new ones. The interventions that took place during the pre-Expo period opened up new opportunities for leisure and recreation. At the regional level, the Kommunnalverband Grossraum Hannover and the City of Laatzen made their contribution with the project Park der Sinne / Regionaler Landschaftsraum am Kronsberg that helped to link the Leineaue and Kronsberg landscape. In the post-Expo period, the projects implemented on the occasion of Expo 2000 initiated a series of other programmes and projects (for example “Hannover schafft Platz”, “Gartenregion 2009”, Stadtentwicklungsprogram “City 2020+”) and contributed to an increase in the importance of landscape architecture in everyday culture.


Hosting an Expo has a significant impact on the urban landscape, which can differ in its extent and which can have positive effects in the long term. Although the organisation of Expos affects the socio-economic indicators of the host cities and regions, the most notable changes are manifested in urban landscape components in their physical occurrence - infrastructure, suprastructure and ecostructure.

"The selection of the location is a significant factor in the success of the event"

In order for the changes that result from the organisation of an Expo to have a positive effect in space, it is necessary to comprehensively plan the event itself and all directly or indirectly related interventions, as well as to take a long-term view of the needs and capacities of the host city and region, to which these new elements of the urban landscape remain a permanent inheritance.

The selection of a suitable location for the Expo site is a very important step in planning the event, which should be in accordance with the long-term tendencies of expansion and development of the city. In the context of organising the Expo, as a temporary event, the selection of the location is a significant factor in the success of the event itself. Because the events cover large areas, especially in the case of World Expos, the manner and intensity of the Expo site use in the post-Expo period and its integration into the surrounding urban tissue should be foremost in the mind of the city and regional authorities. Whether so-called greenfield areas or brownfield areas are chosen for the Expo site, which need to be developed or transformed, in both cases they result in significant changes to the urban tissue. Location selection tendencies should be primarily geared towards the transformation of brownfield areas, in accordance with planning based on the principles of sustainability and sustainable development.

In the preparatory period of a major event, Expo cities and regions experience the modernisation and transformation of all subsystems of transport infrastructure, enabling the long-term intensification of links between the city and higher-level territorial units. Numerous interventions are carried out in the construction and modernisation of the suprastructure for the temporary needs of the Expo and the permanent city functions, contributing to the social and economic links of the city and its surrounding region. Ecostructure-related interventions are implemented in various forms within different programmes and projects at the city and regional level, contributing many times over to the improvement of cultural life and quality of life.

Numerous interventions carried out thanks to the Expo would often not have been possible in such a short time. It would take much longer to secure enough funding for their implementation, and some projects might never have been carried out had the city not organised an Expo.

Local, regional and national authorities strive for and should continue to aspire to the conception and realisation of all the interventions in space directly or indirectly related to the Expo, based on all aspects of sustainable development. It can be concluded that in a such way, from a professional point of view and in line with the goals of the BIE, the overall changes in the urban landscape of Expo cities and regions would have positive effects for the inhabitants, and thus for humankind as a whole.


This text is a modified version of an article that initially appeared in “Expo Cities – Urban Change”, the 2018 edition of the BIE Bulletin.

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