Ironically, it was world’s fairs that helped get the modern Olympic movement started. The second and third modern Olympic games were held as side events to Paris’s 1900 Exposition Universelle and St. Louis’s 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
By Urso Chappell (above, in the Australian pavilion)
These days, world’s fairs (known variously as “international expositions, ” “world expos” or simply “expos” around the world) come in two different sizes. Starting with Expo 2000 in Hannover, large “sanctioned” expositions are held every five years and last 6 months. Smaller “recognized” expos can be held once in between the larger ones and last 3 months. In some ways, you can draw an analogy with the Summer and Winter Olympics.
Each world’s fair has a different theme. Expo 2012’s was “the Living Ocean and Coast.” Situated on 62 acres of coastland in the city of Yeosu, on the very southern coast of the country. Despite being hours from Korea’s urban center, Seoul, it achieved its goal of 8 million visits in it’s three months. Much of this was possible with the extension of Korea’s KTX high-speed rail system to the coastal town.
The exposition’s main architectural icon (above) was the rather curiously named “Big-O.” Living up to its name, it’s a large “O.” During the day, it served as a backdrop to the main central floating stage area and the adjacent fountains. At night, it was the centerpiece for an elaborate nighttime spectacular. Featuring projected video on curtains of water, lasers, smog effects, water effects, as well as fire effects, the Big-O illustrated and celebrated the oceans and coast theme.
Nearby, 104 nations participated in what I could perhaps call a huge three-level Mall of Nations. Given the short run of this exposition, national pavilions are relatively modest in scope, but can sometimes still be very revealing about each nation’s character.
For example, Russia (above right) took the problems of global warming on oceans and made lemonade out of lemons – touting better trade access through the Arctic! Russia, along with Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Thailand, also made sure to promote their own bid for Expo 2020.
Japan presented an animated tale of the power of oceans as seen through the lens of a young tsunami survivor.
Even Switzerland (left), a landlocked country, was able to leverage the theme to talk about the origin of the ocean’s waters: rivers.
Not surprisingly, Korea’s corporations participated with their own stand-alone pavilions: Samsung, Hyundai, and Lotte’s efforts were the most noteworthy. Given Lotte’s experience with themed entertainment, they seemed to know exactly the right approach: a simulated hot air balloon ride consisting of a 360º screen surrounding a large tilting platform. It could almost be seen as a cousin to Disney’s Soaring Over California.
In London’s Summer Olympic Closing Ceremonies, the flag was passed to Rio de Janeiro for 2016. In Yeosu, a flag was passed as well. This one to Milan, who hosts Expo 2015 under the theme “Feeding the Planet; Energy for Life.”
All images kind courtesy Urso Chappell.
Below 1. A 360º panorama taken in the International Pavilion and 2. Expo 2012’s Lotte Pavilion featured a 360º film viewed from a large tilting platform