The World’s Fair in 2015

0116_Acq_Brunetti-e1440706430628Patrick Ellis at n+1:

HOW MUCH MONEY is the Eiffel Tower worth? It is an answerless question, but one that many have nevertheless posed, and a few have tried to resolve. One recent estimate claimed €435 billion—but the price of air travel and entry tickets, evidently, cannot encompass the tower’s worth in the cultural imagination, so why would anyone ever bother? One possible reason: the Eiffel Tower is the great survivor of the 1889 World’s Fair and stands as a barometer, however unrealistic, of the future potential of all such expositions.

World’s fairs bring together participating nations into architecturally elaborate pavilions that display whatever each guest nation wishes to broadcast, in theory according to the fair’s topical theme du jour. These connections can be tenuous. At San Francisco’s fair of 1915, you might learn of agricultural practices in New Zealand, forest products in Honduras, or the palatial architectural of Japan. Architecture has always been a heavily promoted feature of the fairs, and they have helped to introduce Beaux-Arts, art deco, and Brazilian modernism (among other styles) to new audiences. Critics have routinely met such architectural novelties with disdain, given that the common palette is surfeit, expense, and transience. Apart from the handful of structures that have legs, and outlive the fair—organizers never know when they might wind up with another Ferris wheel (Chicago) or Space Needle (Seattle)—a world’s fair is an ephemeral event, never built to last.

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