Compelling Photos Capture Afterlife Of World’s Fair Sites
November 22, 2012
Montreal 1967 World’s Fair, “Man and His World,” Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome with solar experimental house.
If CAD software had existed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, would the Grand Palais, the Eiffel Tower, and the Palais de Tokyo have been built? All three grew out of the giant collective experiment of the World’s Fair, which, beginning in 1851, mounted futuristic exhibitions that invited crowds to glimpse the society of tomorrow—and allowed architects to prototype tomorrow’s building concepts and engineering strategies without having to design usable spaces for today’s irate client.
Like the speculative renderings many architecture offices put out today, most of the World’s Fair structures and pavilions weren’t intended to actually stand on Earth for the better part of a century. Even when they were commissioned from top architects (Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, and McKim, Mead & White, to name a few), the expo buildings were the equivalent of jumbo pop-up shops or a sparkly CAD experiment brought to life. If the Eiffel Tower hadn’t proved so useful transmitting radio signals from its top, it might have been torn down long ago. Read more!
For all those World’s Fair structures that did not become national monuments, the Brooklyn-based photographer Jade Doskow has been documenting their decline and, in some cases, total disappearance. As Doskow writes in her artist’s statement, the series considers the afterlife of the fair sites and examines the relationship between the aged temporary structures and the world that has grown up around them. “World’s Fairs were unique, spectacular cultural events from which one can glean worldviews that came into and out of vogue, the rise of industrialism, the rise of modernism, architectural trends and progress, and the hopes and dreams of each era,” she writes. Their leavings—a stray column here, a bathroom there—hint at the holistic visions of their creators without giving us all that much to go on.
New York 1964 World’s Fair, “Peace Through Understanding,” New York State Pavilion by Philip Johnson (2008).
Buffalo 1901 World’s Fair, “The Pan Am Exposition,” site of Japanese Village (2009).
Brussels 1958 World’s Fair, “A World View: A New Humanism,” Atomium (2007).
New York 1939 World’s Fair, “The World of Tomorrow,” Town of Tomorrow (2011).
Philadelphia 1876 World’s Fair. Of the four structures built on this site, just two—both toilet buildings—remain.
Brussels 1897 World’s Fair, “Exposition Internationale de Bruxelles,” Parc du Cinquentenaire (2008).
Buffalo 1901 World’s Fair, “The Pan Am Exposition,” site of Manufacture Liberal Arts Building (2009).
Seattle 1962 World’s Fair, “The Century 21 Exposition,” Universal Fountain (2007).
All photos: Jade Doskow