With Expo 2020 Dubai only one year away, we are at a crisis point to create a world-class pavilion to represent the best of the American people at the first World Expo in the Middle East. Architecturally brilliant US pavilions had been globally admired during America’s Cold War foreign policy efforts. As an architect and documentary filmmaker who filmed America's abandonment of World’s Fairs through poor architectural design efforts in Face of a Nation, it is vitally important for me to share how a disintegration we’ve ignored for decades negatively impacts our American image abroad and endangers our hopeful vision of democracy. The story of our U.S.A pavilion captures the commercialization of our national interests. The defunding and abolition of a strategic part of our foreign policy, the United States Information Agency (USIA), in 1999 marked the end of design excellence as a tenet of representing the American people at important public diplomacy events. Our research documents the failures of when privatization totally takes over our public interests. Why is federal funding necessary for design excellence? Other countries demonstrate that they know the value of these events by paying for their own pavilions. Despite Reagan’s promise for “the energy and genius of the American people” at Expo ’92 in Seville, Spain, Congress blocked funds for the U.S.A Pavilion and we axed our American architect. The State Department scrambled to find “two exhibit buildings in moth-balls” for a makeshift pavilion the Spanish press maligned as “the American bra.” But architects know this message is most profoundly delivered through architecture. Congress eliminated the USIA (responsible for U.S.A. Pavilions overseas) in 1999 after we thought we had won the Cold War—ending public-sector support and beginning the battle of ‘who should pay.’ Debacles at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo and 2015 Milan World Expo are evidence enough that pure private-sector funding is a recipe for trouble. Shanghai’s U.S. Pavilion locked visitors inside and wasn’t even designed by an American architect! The richest country in the world didn’t raise enough to pay for Milan’s U.S. Pavilion, so the American companies who created it suffered significant financial losses. Diminishing World’s Fairs as “just trade fairs” and lauding public-private sector partnerships, the federal government has forced the private money to pay for our international exhibitions for the last 25 years. But public-private partnerships only work when the public sector pays as well. Other countries believe World’s Fairs are more than “just trade fairs,” with an important public diplomacy role, by engaging people around the world. More than 60 years after the USIA’s founding principles were defined "to understand, inform and influence foreign publics" about American ideas and values, our practice appears to be antagonizing the world instead. Rather than “winning hearts and minds” with face-to-face communication in “the last 3 feet,” our generation is tweeting, chatting, or cyber-bullying each other over thousands of miles. Most people don’t know the potency of our senses in the brick and mortar world. Architects use design excellence to kindle the viewer's emotions; a powerful persuasion without words. Innovative design captures futuristic visions of hope, effecting optimism and industry for generations to come. Awe-inspiring examples of the power of World’s Fair architecture influencing people for hundreds of years include the Crystal Palace and the Eiffel Tower. Our film follows the late Jack Masey, a U.S. foreign service officer/behind-the-scenes genius whose vision shaped the most innovative U.S.A. Pavilions from USIA’s early years. These pavilions inspired nations with a better idea about who we are as a people; including the setting for the 1959 Kitchen Debate, Buckminster Fuller’s Expo ’67 geodesic dome (inspiring Disney’s Epcot), and Davis Brody’s Expo ’70 air-inflatable—the largest in the world, where the Apollo 11 moon rock was shown. By the late 20th Century, U.S. trade interests had unconsciously projected a corporate, consumer image of American values and culture. The 21st Century saw the development of the internet, social media, and new digital platforms for people to communicate in cyberspace. These realms convinced many that international gatherings like World’s Fairs were costly, wasteful, and obsolete. No one anticipated they might become “virtual spaces” to spread false narratives about America. Going to the World’s Fair with design excellence is not only a chance to defend our American image in “real space,” but an opportunity to engage the world in the wonder we inspired when we did things right. American design excellence must be used to deflect the attempts to diminish our democracy. We must tell our story better to the world. It took a bipartisan Congress to underestimate the importance of design. It will take bipartisan Congressional support to fund and fix it. Special appropriations through Congress were essential to do things right during the Cold War, and federal funds are critical again to safeguard our vision of democracy. Because architecture reflects who we are. If we ignore what we see, we lose sight of our own vision. What keeps our dream alive? Going to the World’s Fair with our best American design talent might make all the difference. Mina Chow, AIA, is a documentary filmmaker, founder and principal of mc² SPACES, and an adjunct associate professor at the USC School of Architecture.
Posts tagged with "Worlds Fair":
More than 50 years after Montreal's Expo 67 World’s Fair, Parc Jean-Drapeau, has received a full renovation by the transdisciplinary design firm Lemay. The vast redevelopment project, titled Espace 67, involved the enhancement of a natural amphitheater and redevelopment of the central concourse that links the island’s Biosphere to Alexander Calder’s Trois Disques sculpture. The project began in 2017 and the revitalization of the site is, in part, a celebration of the City of Montreal’s 375th anniversary. “Lemay’s concept blends the enchanting natural setting and rich historic past of this exceptional site, to offer a truly versatile space,” said Andrew King, partner and design principal at Lemay in a press release, “It has been reborn as a destination unto itself, now able to fully accommodate a wide range of major events.” Building on the 662-acre site’s history, Lemay aimed to recreate the “festive, unifying spirit” of Expo 67, which is remembered as a landmark in Canadian history for its social, cultural, and technological advancements. With a record-breaking number of visitors, it was the most successful World’s Fair of the 20th century. The design approach is rooted in adaptive reuse but creates enhanced services, event spaces, and wayfinding through a holistic design strategy. Inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s neighboring geodesic dome, the central pathway has been shaped by inclined planes paved with a geometric pattern. The slight incline (and to many resident’s dismay, the removal of hundreds of trees) maximizes views of Calder’s sculpture as well as the surrounding context of the St. Lawrence River and Old Montreal. Service pavilions have been added near the site’s entrance with materials that echo the architectural language of the Expo and follow the same geometric design incorporated throughout the rest of the park. The pavilions themselves were also designed with wayfinding and crowd management in mind, and their metallic surfaces and lighting design making them prominent markers throughout the visitor’s journey in the park. The massive renovation spans 1,502,286 square feet, with the amphitheater alone accounting for 615,265 square feet of that. While the theater can seat up to 65,000 people at any given time, it was designed with flexibility in mind; the stage can be adjusted and the floor shortened to create intimacy for smaller events. While some are excited about the prospect of holding larger-scale events and festivals on the former fairgrounds, others are disappointed in the redesign. Retired professor and historian, Roger La Roche, told Citylab that, “The main objective of Expo 67’s planners was to make the site completely human-sized. Even if there were people everywhere, you could still feel isolated, in your own little bubble,” he explained, reminiscing on the days of his youth when he worked as a cook at the fair. The architects insist that the removal of trees for the creation of more open space was due to the disrepair that the entire park, including the landscaping, was in. However, not all is lost for the city’s nature lovers. Société du parc Jean-Drapeau has recently joined forces with the City of Montreal on a naturalization project for the south bank of the nearby Olympic Basin on Île Notre-Dame, in which more than 135 trees and 300 shrubs have already been planted. Done in conjunction with the urban forest action plan, the objective is to plant 300,000 trees by 2025, increasing the city’s canopy index by five percent.
John Catsimatidis, the billionaire-grocery-store-tycoon-turned-failed-mayoral-candidate said he will write a check to save Philip Johnson’s iconic New York State Pavilion in Queens, New York. That is, if someone presents him with the right “visionary” plan. At a recent event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair, Catsimatidis told the New York Daily News he wants to see another World’s Fair in Queens in the near future. “I can make it happen,” he told The News. “But you need people who have dreams.” It, of course, will take more than dreams alone, and, as the publication notes, Catsimatidis does not have “a specific plan, timeline, or strategy” behind his offer. Oh, the little things. But, if Cats—as he was known during his unsuccessful, but entertaining, mayoral campaign—is true to his word, then he can expect to write a pretty hefty check. A study by the New York City Parks Department found that preserving the structure as-is will cost about $50 million, and renovating it for new use would set someone like Catsimatidis back $70 million.
The Future of Yesterday: Photographs of Architectural Remains at World's Fairs Nelson-Atkins Museum 45th and Oak Streets, Kansas City, MO Through September 9 In conjunction with Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs 1851–1939, the Nelson-Atkins Museum presents the first solo American exhibition of Belgian artist Ives Maes. In contrast to the technological and stylistic innovation showcased in the companion exhibition, Maes provides a study of the lasting artifacts of the world’s fair utopian aspirations. The photographs uncover fair grounds as they stand today, sometimes repurposed but often abandoned or in ruins (such as the site of London’s Crystal Palace, above), juxtaposing the optimism of the architects’ vision with the reality of the present. Co-curator Catherine L. Futter explains, “Ives’ visually compelling images and sculptural presentation lead us to examine the condition, context and activities of the sites in the present, yet evoke the magnificent and progressive ideals of these global events.”
How can technology and science revolutionize and restore our public spaces—particularly those disconnected and decaying districts that remain after colossal events such as the Olympics, biennials, and world’s fairs? These immense programs have shaped many an urban core, for better or for worse, from the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 to the 2004 Athens Olympics. As part of the Seattle Next Fifty, the 50th anniversary of the Seattle 1962 World’s Fair Century 21 Exposition, the Howard S. Wright Design Ideas Competition for Public Space challenged global designers, architects, and urban planners to re-imagine the 9 acre Seattle Center site that was part of the larger 74-acre campus, which hosted the original 1962 fair. Suggestions range from clearing the Seattle Center site, to enclosing the space in a curved wood lattice archway, to filling the area with an open-air labyrinth. A six person design jury selected three finalists’ proposals that present economic, social, and sustainable creative reuse solutions: ABF (France) for their design In-Closure, a forested, interactive wall; KoningEizenberg Architecture + ARUP for Park, which suggests a meeting between stadium, landscape and building; and PRAUD for Seattle Jelly Bean, an atmospheric cloud-like balloon secured to the site that serves as a reflective mirror during the day and a projection screen at night. For more proposal images and more information on finalists, commendations, and other entries, visit: Urban Intervention - AIA Seattle.