Do World Fairs Make Sense Any More?

worlds fair chicago photo

According to Edwin Heathcote in the Financial Times, Chicago's Columbian Exhibition of 1893 changed everything.

"The first Ferris wheel loomed above the "White City" and carried 2,160 people simultaneously on a 20-minute ride for 50 cents, every ride accompanied by a band in one of the cars. Nikola Tesla illuminated the fair in the biggest electric light show the world had ever seen, and displayed the first phosphorescent and neon lights. Meanwhile Wrigley's Juicy Fruit gum, Cracker Jacks, Quaker Oats and Shredded Wheat made their first appearances; Scott Joplin introduced the world to the syncopations of ragtime; the hamburger appeared at the fair and Whitcomb L Judson displayed his "clasp-locker" for the first time. It wasn't quite there yet but it soon became the zip."

And what will Shanghai leave us?

worlds fair  shanghai photo

Shanghai expo aerial view

They have spent $55 Billion mounting this show, twice as much as they did on the Olympics. But what is the legacy? Heathcote asks Thomas Heatherwick, architect of the popular British pavilion:

"That's a bit like asking what's the point of a festival? Or what's the point of a party? The whole point is not to define the outcome too precisely but to bring people together. It's a party for countries."

Some party. Heathcote concludes:

The world will not gasp as they did at the astonishing, epoch-making innovations at Chicago in 1893. Shanghai will leave us nothing as lasting as neon lights or Juicy Fruit chewing gum but, in its magpie mix of artifice and authenticity, it has become the perfect cipher for the contemporary city.

Interesting reading at the Financial Times.

Read our take on it in Shanghai Expo 2010: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Pavilions

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