The Architectural Lab: A History Of World Expos

The Universal Exposition of 1889. Image via Wikimedia Commons

World Expos have long been important in advancing architectural innovation and discourse. Many of our most beloved monuments were designed and constructed specifically for world’s fairs, only to remain as iconic fixtures in the cities that host them. But what is it about Expos that seem to create such lasting architectural landmarks, and is this still the case today? Throughout history, each new Expo offered architects an opportunity to present radical ideas and use these events as a creative laboratory for testing bold innovations in design and building technology. World’s fairs inevitably encourage competition, with every country striving to put their best foot forward at almost any cost. This carte blanche of sorts allows architects to eschew many of the programmatic constraints of everyday commissions and concentrate on expressing ideas in their purest form. Many masterworks such as Mies van der Rohe’s German Pavilion (better known as the Barcelona Pavilion) for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition are so wholeheartedly devoted to their conceptual approach that they could only be possible in the context of an Exposition pavilion.

To celebrate the opening of Expo Milano 2015 tomorrow, we’ve rounded up a few of history’s most noteworthy World Expositions to take a closer look at their impact on architectural development.

Shanghai Natural History Museum / Perkins+Will

© James and Connor Steinkamp

Architects: Perkins+Will
Location: 510 Bei Jing Xi Lu, Jingan Qu, Shi, China, 200000
Area: 44517.0 sqm
Year: 2015
Photographs: James and Connor Steinkamp

Poggenpohl Shanghai Studio / OFA

© Nacasa & Partners

Architects: OFA
Location: NGS (Wanrong Road), Zhabei, , China, 200072
Cost: CNY15,000,000
Area: 2200.0 sqm
Year: 2014
Photographs: Nacasa & Partners

Student Accommodation / Wuyang Architecture

© SU Shengliang

Architects:
Location: Jian Chuan Lu, Minhang Qu, Shanghai Shi,
Project Architect: FENG Lu
Engineering: SRIBS
Area: 975.0 sqm
Year: 2014
Photographs: SU Shengliang

Video: Rob Whitworth, Stunning Cities in Hyperlapse

Witness the urban life of five stunning metropolises through the lens of Rob Whitworth with these “Vimeo Staff Pick” videos. From the unexplored urban life of the North Korean capital Pyongyang to the towering skyline of Dubai, each video explores an incredible sequence of daily living in cities across the planet. See more, including video from Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai, after the break.

Ennead Tapped to Design Shanghai Planetarium

© Thomas Wong /

Ennead Architects has won an international competition to design the Planetarium. The “celestial” design hopes to elevate the Science and Technology Museum’s (SSTM) “scientific and technological capacity” while redefine the district Lingang upon its completion in 2018. 

“Drawing inspiration form astronomical principles, our design strategy provides a platform for the experience of orbital motion, and utilizes that as a metaphorical reference and generator of form,” says Ennead Architects.

Flask – The Press / Alberto Caiola

© Shen Zhonghai

Architects: Alberto Caiola
Location: Shanghai, Shanghai,
Area: 130.0 sqm
Year: 2014
Photographs: Shen Zhonghai

Songjiang Art Campus / Archi-Union Architects

Courtesy of

Architects: Archi-Union Architects
Location: Si Zhuan Nan Lu, Songjiang Qu, Shi, China
Architect In Charge: Philip F. Yuan
Area: 150000.0 sqm
Year: 2015
Photographs: Courtesy of Archi-Union Architects

Liquid Laundry / hcreates

© Seth Powers

Architects: hcreates
Location: Xuhui, ,
Architect In Charge: Hannah Churchill
Branding & Graphic Design: The Orange Blowfish
Area: 700.0 sqm
Year: 2014
Photographs: Seth Powers

Lone Ranger Hot Dog Shop / Linehouse

© Benoit Florencon

Architects: Linehouse
Location: Wai Ma Lu, Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi,
Area: 19.0 sqm
Year: 2014
Photographs: Benoit Florencon

Kids Museum Of Glass / Coordination Asia

Courtesy of Coordination Asia

Architects: Coordination Asia
Location: G+ Park, 685 Changjiang West Road, Baoshan, ,
Architect In Charge: Tilman Thürmer
Area: 2000.0 sqm
Year: 2015
Photographs: Courtesy of Coordination Asia

Office Around a Tree / Lukstudio

© Peter Dixie

Architects: Lukstudio
Location: , ,
Design Team: Christina Luk, Wesley Shu, Scott Baker, Mavis Li
Area: 133.0 sqm
Year: 2014
Photographs: Peter Dixie

The Platform / Lukstudio

© Peter Dixie

Architects: Lukstudio
Location: Nan Jing Dong Lu, Huangpu Qu, Shi, , 200085
Design Team: Christina Luk, Scott Baker, Wesley Shu
Area: 50.0 sqm
Year: 2014
Photographs: Peter Dixie

Waterfront Restaurant / Pro-Form Architects

© LV Hengzhong

Architects: Pro-Form Architects
Location: 2801 Hu Yi Gong Lu, Jiading Qu, Shanghai Shi,
Architect In Charge: WU Jing, LI Peng, HE Ru of Limited
Area: 1500.0 sqm
Year: 2012
Photographs: LV Hengzhong

Huishan North Bund / EE&K a Perkins Eastman Company

© Tim Griffith

Architects: EE&K
Location: Hongkou, ,
Area: 255000.0 sqm
Photographs: Tim Griffith, Courtesy of Perkins Eastman, Gary Wei

Student Bathrooms / Wuyang Architecture

© SU Shengliang

Architects:
Location: Jian Chuan Lu, Minhang Qu, Shanghai Shi,
Architect: FENG Lu
Engineering: SRIBS
Area: 503.0 sqm
Year: 2014
Photographs: SU Shengliang, Courtesy of Wuyang Architecture

Container Sale Office / Atelier XÜK

© Su shengliang

Architects: Atelier XÜK
Location: Qingpu, Shanghai,
Design Team: Liukenan Zhangxu Lujun Sunwenliang Chenxiao Lizheyuan Liang Wangqian
Area: 260.0 sqm
Photographs: Su shengliang

Aedas’ Leaf-Shaped Sales Gallery Nears Completion in Shanghai

Sales Gallery. Image Courtesy of Aedas

Aedas is nearing completion on the sales gallery for the mixed-use Greenland Qingpu Xujing District complex. The gallery, shaped as a leaf, is designed to fit with the “clover leaf” concept of the nearby Qingpu Xujing Conference and Exhibition Centre, in which it will be connected with by a pedestrian bridge.