Shanghai Expo 2010

From the Ottawa Citizen

The Shanghai 2010 Expo is now underway, having initiated a summer of spectacle with the largest fireworks display in history. The fair is the latest in the long history of World’s Fairs whose recent and less gratuitous iterations have passed unnoticed during the last few decades. But not China. Having spent either $4 billion or $58 billion (depending on the source) on the expo, the city of tomorrow is making an appearance that is hard to ignore.

How is the vision portrayed in Shanghai today different from the World’s Fairs from the dawn of industrialization?  Here’s the New York Fair from 1939:

Now here’s Shanghai 2010 as seen in the Guardian:

Not much has changed at first glance, but the city surrounding the Expo is dramatically more technological than New York was in 1939 (here is Wired’s roundup of images from the 1939 Fair). More than specific advancements, today’s city is built upon the legacy created by those early World’s Fairs.  Together with the Modernist idea of elevated aesthetics, the visual history of World’s Fairs has helped shape our understanding of what the Metropolis should be.

As more and more of the world’s population migrates into urban settings, the city reflects more than ever the social practice of its inhabitants and the esteemed value of technological progress that has ruled for so long. Look at this poster for the 1933 Chicago Fair and see how hard they’re pushing the new technology of the day:  the steam engine.

If technology is key to social progress, is there anything else to consider as we build our future?

The official motto for Shanghai 2010 is “Better City, Better Life”, presumably to enforce the total dominance of urban living. The spectacle of the World’s Fair serves to showcase the emerging technology of the time. This focus on emerging inventions ostensibly serves to cement the host nation’s status as a world power. Indeed nationalism is the real purpose behind these things, but what I’m interested is how these displays of technological dreamscapes affects the city surrounding the Fair. As shown repeatedly on this blog, even the mundane has been modeled after Science Fiction. And it seems to me that the larger-than-life quality of these Fairs literally allows them to transcend architectural status and become futuristic beacons – stated goals for the everyday.

The following images are from The Big Picture’s fantastic series on Shanghai 2010. They’re previously featured the construction of the thing, and I’m already looking forward to their documentation once things really get under way.  And for a good collection of each country’s pavilions I recommend the Ottawa Citizen page linked to above.

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