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Architectural Remnants Of World’s Fairs Passed

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
November 15, 2012

My first thought when I saw Jade Doskow’s photo series was: “Wait, are we still doing world’s fairs?”

I mean, I guess I kind of knew the answer, since they happen pretty much every year. But still, I never really think about it. And Doskow wasn’t surprised; there’s been a waning interest practically since World War I.

“Barely anybody … even knew there was an expo this year in Korea,” Doskow says via email. That’s right: It was in South Korea, ran for four months starting in April, and even had mascots (plankton!) and a theme song. But Doskow wasn’t there to photograph it; she’s much more interested in what remains years after an expo has run its course.

In short, “world’s fairs” or “international expositions” have been big affairs since the mid-1800s. Technically, it’s not an official, traveling event like, say, the Olympics, which has an international committee and a standard, every-four-year format.

International expos are regulated by the Bureau International des Expositions in France, and are rooted in England’s Great Exhibition of 1851. The idea was to showcase the latest innovations in science and technology — products of, and tools that would catalyze, the industrial revolution.

The tradition traveled overseas, and soon it was practically a yearly affair that often involved the construction of a monument, if not several: the Eiffel Tower, the Crystal Palace in London, Seattle’s Space Needle. Even today, many landmark structures around the world are products of an international expo. Take Knoxville, Tenn., my college town, for example. The Sunsphere, which has even made a cameo in The Simpsons, was the skyline’s key feature.

While the fair in Korea was under way, Doskow was in Montreal, documenting what remains of the 1967 fair — including the former United States pavilion, now called the Montreal Biosphere, a sculpture by Alexander Calder and “Habitat 67″ — an architectural experiment in housing alternatives.

“Some of the most important architects of the 19th and 20th centuries were commissioned to construct fair pavilions, dazzling, unusual structures incorporating the most cutting-edge materials and engineering prowess possible at the time,” Doskow writes in an artist statement. “Among them are McKim, Mead and White, Louis Sullivan, Gustave Eiffel, Le Corbusier, Ando, Mies van der Rohe and the landscaping of Frederick Law Olmsted.”

Doskow hopes to photograph every past site and “allude to the complicated goals and dreams of these magnificent events,” she writes. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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