Luxembourg Expo Pavilion 2010 Shanghai

Hermann & Valentiny and Partners, Luxembourg Expo Pavilion 2010 Shanghai, Jovis, Berlin

Editor : Ingeborg Flagge


The history of World Fairs goes back 159 years if you add the Expos. When the first World Fair took place in London in 1851, long distance travel was impossible for most people; explorers and emigrants were the only ones who dared to venture into foreign lands. One could not inform oneself of the general development of the world, nor of other societies—at least not from one’s own perspective. Although books and newspapers did exist, only the fewest benefitted from them. The television, which transports images and events from other countries into one’s own sitting room, did not exist. Radio, with its commentaries on goings-on throughout the world, had not yet been invented. Phone

calls and direct exchange with people from all over the globe was still written in the stars; not to mention the Internet, with which everyone can now find out about events, ideas, inventions, and research outside

of one’s own perceptive sphere, from the comfort of one’s own desk within one’s own four walls.

In this sense, the invention of World Fairs—with the intention of informing professionals and laymen alike of current technological advances, of inventions and innovations, of the ideas and habits of foreign cultures—was a brilliant initiative. Although World Fairs soon became “Places of Pilgrimage to Fetishes’ Goods,” they were originally real festivals of progress and future shows of immensely widespread impact.

They developed visions in the most diverse ways and sent out messages; the content of which ranged from technological innovation to international understanding and political enlightenment. Even Karl

Marx informed himself in London in 1951, albeit of more trivial matters than the philosophy of economics. Since the Expo 1992 in Seville, when World Fairs came clean, giving up any idealistic pretensions and expressing what they actually represent in the name “Expo”—industrial fairs in the name of export—critics, the likes of whom have been around since 1951, question whether such costly mass events have not actually become obsolete. These days, computers can replace an Expo in the same way that they can replace a visit to the library or a museum or a shopping trip to the city. The point of former World Fairs was to demonstrate industrial performance, for which the spaces of an Expo are no longer necessary. So the self-representation of the host and visiting countries remain, along with their attempts in this era of total communication to deliver strong images of themselves, hoping to impress a global public, at least for a while. Some critics maintain that today’s Expos are nothing more than “perfectly organized mega shows” without any vision and with the sole intention of establishing economic relations. They have lost their former unique informative significance and are no longer magnets for the public. In industrialized nations, they have since come to rank somewhere in the league of national and regional garden shows, biennales, and cultural capitals; initiatives that give cities or regions an opportunity for radical renewal or modernization and for which they are given subsidies they would otherwise not receive. With its Expo 2008, the more provincial Spanish city of Zaragoza took on the ambitious objective of presenting itself as a large city on the international stage, attempting to reposition itself between Madrid and Barcelona. Zaragoza failed dismally: the city chose the wrong site for the grounds—it was flooded several times by the River Ebro during the Expo; it also failed to find a convincing concept for how the Expo grounds and the remaining structures could be used after the exhibition. Hanover was left in a similar position after its Expo 2000. That first World Fair on German soil has since almost been completely forgotten. The built leftovers are unglamorous and the former Expo site boring. At most, the one thing that remains in some people’s memories is Meinhard von Gerkan’s church and Haven of Tranquillity, which was later dismantled and used somewhere else. And the odd person might still remember the larg scent of Peter Zumthor’s Swiss pavilion; this brilliant nonentity made of freshly felled and layered wood made more of an impression than any other building, no matter how grand in structure. The randomness of Expos that take places in industrialized countries i becoming increasingly apparent. This is not the case in emerging and developing countries. After the 2008 Olympic Games, the Expo 2010 in Shanghai is another huge event with which China can present itself as an economic and political model country; and is situated against the incredible background of the mega city Shanghai, which is the actual attraction of the Expo.



Exceptional architecture has always played a central role in the history of World Fairs. The first World Fair, which took place in Hyde Park in London in 1851 and for which gardener Joseph Paxton built the prefabricated

Crystal Palace using giant greenhouses as his model set architectural standards that successive World Fairs found difficult to live up to. At its opening, Queen Victoria subsumed her impression of the light flooded structure of iron and steel as “overwhelming, glorious, touching.” The world had never before seen a building of such dimensions: 563 meters long, 124 meters wide, and with a 33-meter-high dome. All hopes that this first World Fair would be an all-round success as a show of progress were fulfilled by the presence of 17,000 exhibitors from all over the world as well as six million visitors. The fact that its organizers also intended it to be a festival of peace faded into the background.

The World Fair as a festival of peace was also the primary message of the propaganda around the 1855 World Fair in Paris. Louis Napoléon had declared himself Emperor Napoléon III in 1852 and the World Fair was the perfect medium with which to have himself represented on the world stage. The event also gave him an opportunity to take revenge on eternal arch rival London; thus began the competition of nations and cities against each other. Winfried Kretschmer calls it “World Fair Darwinism.” However, the antique style architecture of the World Fair, on its prime Champs Elysées site, could not compete with the Crystal Palace in London. In contrast, the 1867 fair architecture in Paris was downright revolutionary. The Galérie des Machines, with hydraulic elevators right to the roof, set the standards for future buildings; to be more spectacular and sensational than their predecessors. The show of superlatives attracted huge crowds of visitors, although the actual exhibition was the city of Paris itself. Baron Haussmann had freed it of its medieval narrowness by demolishing and breaking through its fabric; he created wide boulevards and new architecture, which formed the background to the World Fair. The first World Fair in the USA took place in Philadelphia in 1876. On the centenary day of the American Declaration of Independence, it clearly demonstrated the political and economic power of America to the world. Paris celebrated the centennial anniversary of the French Revolution with the 1889 World Fair. Paris was immersed in a sea of light for the occasion; rather than just celebrating a new medium, the light was a synonym for enlightenment. This mammoth show represented the high point of all nineteenth century shows. Its architecture, with its almost floating machine hall and the imposing Eiffel Tower, still two of the most famous engineering structures of the nineteenth-century, also remained unattainable for a long time. The Eiffel Tower, the erection of which was initially threatened by a citizen’s initiative of architects, sculptors, and writers who felt it to be a disturbance and considered it a Tower of Babel, today remains proof of the genius of its creator; it is now impossible to imagine the streets of Paris without it. The 1893 World Fair in Chicago stood in stark contrast to the radical modernity of the Parisian architecture. Despite the size of the largest machine hall ever to be erected, the show was decentralized and marked a transition from one compact exhibition within one large shell into smaller pavilions. America, mistrustful of progressive architecture, hid its exterior behind neo-classical plaster façades. Sullivan, the famous skyscraper architect of the time sighed in response: “The damage done by the World Fair will last at least fifty years, if not longer.” The plans of the 1900 Paris World Fair to decorate the Eiffel Tower with bays and little towers and to clad it with a massive stone façade in order to make it “bearable,” demonstrates that the Eiffel Tower didn’t make Paris progressive and that people thought in a similarly conservative manner to the USA. Eleven years after its completion, people had still not gotten used to it; luckily the plans for its conversion failed. That World Fair had a record fifty million visitors, not least because the second Olympic Games of modern times took place as part of it. Coubertin had resurrected the antique Olympic tradition in Athens in 1896 and this time Paris was to be the location.

In the early twentieth century, Paris took its departure from the circus of World Fairs for a long period of time. While they had thus far alternately taken place in London, Paris or the USA—1876 Philadelphia, 1893 Chicago—they now began to gradually make their way to other cities. The twentieth century, “torn apart” by two world wars, also broke away from the pompous orchestration of the always greater, always more ostentatious victory parade of the industry and technology fair. While countries restructured in Europe and new political groupings developed, the interest in World Fairs faded as the USA welcomed one to St. Louis in 1904. “The fair is a consequence of mental shock,” wrote a journalist at the time. The 500-hectare-large World Fair complex was both a shock and an ecological catastrophe. Large, previously untouched forests were felled, marshes were blasted and dried out, and rivers were straightened for it. Despite such destruction of nature, its architecture was not progressive; instead the conservative Greek-Roman stucco palaces of Chicago were regurgitated. Sullivan’s sigh still applied. The World Fairs in Liege (1905), Milan (1906), Brussels (1910), and Gent (1913) were without any great glamour, however, at least their architecture increasingly departed from the classicist styles. Peter Behrens and Richard Riemerschmid designed modern buildings for Brussels and the press wrote enthusiastically, “A young style has been born.” Although the 1915 World Fair in San Francisco was overshadowed by the First World War, it was still a whopping party, “untroubled under the California sun” with golf tournaments, military parades, and 1,000 congresses on the most diverse topics. It was one of the few lucrative and profitable events, whereas most World Fairs were expensive subvention swallowers.

It was only in Barcelona in 1929/30 that methods and standards were developed according to which cities would be allowed to hold World Fairs in future. Although this didn’t cut out the competition, it did make the allocation more orderly and predictable. Barcelona was the last World Fair to wear classical robes. Only one nonentity with an elegant little shell literally surpassed the framework of the other monumental large-scale architecture on the fair grounds: Mies van der Rohe’s German pavilion. It is as revolutionary as it is small. For the first time in the history of construction, Mies freed the wall from its load-bearing function, placing it at the disposal of the space. The pavilion prompted unanimous aesthetic wonder and mutated quickly into the incarnation of a new architecture. This icon of modernism was incidentally, like most other buildings, demolished at the end of the exhibition and was first reconstructed and re-erected in 1979.

The 1933 World Fair in Chicago celebrated light as a central theme in light cascades, light fountains, and light sky. Large companies like General Motors played a significant role here for the first time ever. After the abolition of the ban on alcohol in the USA in 1920, the World Fair became a huge binging session.

Paris was back in the game in 1937 with a deliberately planned confrontation between the architecture of Russia and Germany. Mies van der Rohe’s minimalistic master work would not only have gotten lost in the environment of the exhibiting dictatorships in Paris, it would probably not have been built at all. Although Picasso’s protest painting Guernica hung in the Spanish pavilion, the spirit of this World Fair was nationalist- monumental. The French Palais des Chaillot in Paris, now home to the French Architecture Museum, was similar in momentum to a Nazi building; however it was surpassed by the German pavilion by Albert Speer. Its cubic volume, structured in heavy columns, was reminiscent of a bombastic stronghold. The Russian pavilion directly opposite was a similarly gigantic bulwark of national propaganda; however the German Nazi pavilion even managed to outdo that. The motto of the 1939 World Fair in New York was “Let’s Build Tomorrow’s World.” Precisely this world and its future collapsed when the Nazis marched into Poland. Many Poles, who couldn’t return home after the World Fair, remained in the USA. Incidentally, the New York show marked the beginning of the new television age; the opening party was broadcast to the whole world for the first time ever. Its architecture was ultramodern with a tendency towards the sensational. At the same time, there was also a desire for clear, simple architecture, as demonstrated by a competition from which Alvar Aalto’s practice took home three prizes; one was awarded to Aalto himself, one to his wife, and a third to Aalto again because he had entered a second design under a pseudonym. World Fairs increasingly became playgrounds for architects—the 1958 World Fair in Brussels was also dominated by great architecture under the motto “Giving the Human back to the World.” With, of all things, Atomium as its emblem, exhibitors tried to forget the catastrophe caused by the atomic bomb dropped by the Americans and the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, presenting themselves, like Germany, in dematerialized buildings, which resembled “air creatures” and seemed to float. They were intended to symbolize a different democratic society. Le Corbusier built a predecessor to deconstructivism for Philips in the shape of an asymmetrical pavilion, which looked like a collapsed aluminium tent or the remains of a crashed plane. The 1967 World Fair in Montreal ultimately became a pinnacle of excellent architecture. The light spatial framework and the filigree net roofs of the German pavilion by Frei Otto and Rolf Gutbrod were fascinating; without their example, the famous buildings of the 1972 Olympics in Munich by Günter Behnisch could never have been built. Moshe Safdie’s Habitat, an experimental residential settlement made of stacked cubes built in series for the first time ever, was also groundbreaking. However, the greatest attraction in Montreal was Buckminster Fuller’s dome, a welded steel spatial framework sixty-one meters high and seventy-six meters in diameter, clad in acrylic glass plates. In 1970, the first World Fair to be held on Asian soil took place in Osaka. It was a festival of constructors and metabolic super structures. Kenzo Tange built the then largest unsupported roof in the world at 108 x 191meters.


A World Fair or an Expo only dances for one summer. In that time, it has to enthrall a global public and attract millions of visitors. For this reason, so-called star architects have been commissioned by Expos—for example Santiago Calatrava in Lisbon in 1998, whose Expo station still stands to this day. However, not even such world-famous architects as Zaha Hadid in Zaragoza in 2008—with her sensational hybrid combination of a building and a bridge, similar to a fish—cannot change the fact that the magic of World Fairs has usually disappeared by the end of the summer and the high-quality exhibition buildings are either torn down or lose their function. Hardly a former Expo site has managed to find a good later use nor is worth visiting today. Technical innovation and orchestrated sensations have always been the fodder of World Fairs. In 1851, Michael Thonet first exhibited his now well-known chairs and sofas made of curved wood, while otherwise, the newest of inventions from the locomotive to the precision clock could be viewed; stuffed wild animals from the colonies were another exotic highlight. Exotic was always big at World Fairs. Without televisions and long distance travel, Asia, Africa, and the Orient remained unknown, mysterious places. The natives of these continents, who were displayed in zoo-like conditions, always attracted considerable numbers of visitors. Such side programs to the technological shows frequently turned World Fairs into loud funfairs. Although Haussmann’s new city was confidently presented in Paris in 1867, Eduard Monet’s painting Dejeuner sur l’herbe, on which a naked lady has breakfast in the grass with two dressed gentlemen, was considered immoral and could only be shown outside the grounds. A Kruppian giant canon was exhibited for the first time and was recognized by the citizens of Paris as the same that had bombarded their city in the 1870 war. There were parachute jumps from a tower as a leisure sensation for visitors. The best feature of Philadelphia in 1876, despite its many downers, was a festive march composed by Richard Wagner for the opening; in 1878 in Paris it was a moored balloon in which up to fifty people could rise to see the city from above. In 1889, the first belly dance took place under the Eiffel Tower and became a real scandal. In 1893, Thomas Edison exhibited his phonographs in Chicago and Krupp once more had the largest canon. That exhibition also featured the first exhibition hall for women by women. As an exdieser otic attraction, original villages from Africa and the South Seas were erected in which the natives were curious exhibits to be marvelled at. Incidentally, they never returned home; it was not planned and there was no budget for it. The organizers did not take care of them and the quickly sank into poverty in a foreign environment and society. The 1900 World Fair in Paris demonstrated the future of mass mobility with numerous flashy automobiles, while the wafer cone for ice cream was invented at the 1904 show in St Louis, and a false morality that had always accompanied the World Fairs reached its climax. The main attractions of this fair were the different “races” from African Pygmies to Japanese Ainus. However, Paris was shocked by the naked inhabitants of a Philippine village until clothing was imposed upon them. The first airplanes could be marveled at in San Francisco in 1915.

The themed exhibition was born in Chicago in 1933/34, where the nudist colony was an absolute sensation. Since then, all World Fairs have had a motto to which all of the exhibiting countries attempt to find an appropriate response in their pavilions. The topic in 2008 was the future-oriented “Water and Sustainability.” However, World Fairs hardly ever find responses of much substance to such highly charged and politically topical matters. Such things are debated in the media, the internet, and at specialist congresses. So, what are the problems that World Fairs should address in the future?


China came up with a particularly future-oriented theme: “Better City, Better Life.” Considering the accelerating urbanization of the world and the development of more and larger megalopolises, this is one of the greatest questions of the future and of survival. One can be curious as to how this theme will be dealt with at this year’s Expo in Shanghai from May 1 to October 31, 2010—the first ever to take place in China. However, it may be futile to expect substantial answers. Shanghai itself represents a possible response. With a population of twenty million, the city must be the world’s largest urban agglomeration.

And in contrast to its wiser, older sister Beijing, it is a more unsettled and nervous city that is still growing rapidly. Around 1990, Shanghai’s Snow White slumber ended, beginning a comet-like climb to becoming one of the leading international metropolises. In many ways the city is reminiscent of the famous Wild West—however, the twenty first century version. Four thousand skyscrapers have been built in the last twenty years and there seems to be no end in sight. Shanghai is a young city whose landmark is the futuristic skyline of Pudong, the new city district with its audacious skyscrapers on the eastern side of Huangpu. This was a purely agricultural area about fifteen years ago. Shanghai’s former model panorama, the skyline of the Bund, dating back to the nineteenth century, was renovated in the last few years but looks almost old-fashioned compared to the newer parts of the city. However, the atmosphere in the Bund district is incredible and therefore provides a welcome contrast to the cool flashy world of Pudong. What will happen to the Expo in Shanghai when the gates are closed at the end of October is less exciting. The Chinese pavilion will remain, and an Expo village will be built around it. Another selected few pavilions will also be protected from demolition and the rest of the area will be filled with residential and office towers. Such plans are of secondary importance for Shanghai and China. Here and now are what count: that the Expo is taking place in Shanghai and that China considers itself able to confidently hold another huge event so soon after the 2008 Olympic Games. All quotes from Winfried Kretschmer, Geschichte der Weltausstellungen,


Frankfurt/New York 1999