SAVE THE DATE: World Expo in May

Sanza-02Columnist: Sanza Bulaya  
Sanza's Beyonder Story
Stephane-02Columnist: Stéphane Ferrero
Stéphane's Beyonder Story

May 2015 – World Expo in Milano, Italy
May 2010 – World Expo in Shanghai, China


SB: If my memory is correct, last year on May 1st 2015, was the opening of the World Expo in Milano, Italy. Too bad, I was in Taiwan so I couldn’t attend that event…… Have I ever told you that I would like to attend a World Expo edition? So far, I haven’t got the chance to make it happen……

SF: A World Expo event? I did it once. I was there.

SB: No way! When? Where? Milano?

SF: Not Milano. When I was living in Shanghai, I managed to get an access badge for the Shanghai 2010 World Expo. So I spent quite some time hanging out there and visiting some pavilions. Guess what, the waiting lines amazed me! To visit some pavilions like the English or Chinese one, people were queuing for more than 4 hours! Insane!


2010 Shanghai Expo, people queuing. (Photo Source: Stephane Ferrero)


SB: I guess people are like me. They want to embrace the World Expo artwork and productions. If I’m not mistaken, one of the most fascinating objectives about the World Expo is to be in touch with the most fashionable and creative projects in the fields of industrial design, city planning and urban development, architecture, art, culture, technology, innovation……

SF: Of course, there is nothing greater than the World Expo event in terms of giving a glimpse of the state of the art of an era or a place. Good or bad…… Think about it, it has been organized in so many places, at different periods of time.

SB: I feel you! I’ll make myself ready to go to the upcoming one in January 2020 in Dubai. By the way, regarding the World Expo that takes place every five years, it used to be held in May, but this time, why is the upcoming Dubai edition scheduled to take place in January?

SF: Good question, I have no clue. All I know is that it used to be organized by different sponsors or countries in the past. At the inception, the very first edition was organized in 1851 in London by Henry Cole to promote the British “know-how” in terms of industrial design and technological innovation. In 1928, the Bureau of International Expositions was set up for being in charge of the event management. Since then, things have changed over time under the leadership of the Bureau of International Expositions. But what is apparent is that: the event is no more the same today.


The front door of the Crystal Palace in the Great Exhibition, 1851. (Photo Source:


SB: What do you mean by “the event is no more the same today”?

SF: Today we live in a globalized world where ways of communication and transportation are accessible to a large number of individuals. What comes along with this globalized network of information, goods and service is a global awareness of issues such as global warming and food supply crisis, which draw much discussion during the World Expo of today. What has been still remaining from the past is the forum set-up to address critical issues about a certain vision of future at global scale.

SB: Right, it was also about shaping a vision of future, and bringing projects to the attention of decision-makers and eventually benefiting the local community where the World Expo took place. It has always been an event grounded in a location to reflect the state of mind of progress and creativity. For example, I have read that the metro in Paris was introduced during the Paris World Expo in 1900. Pretty awesome for the local community in Paris to enjoy the public transportation network!

SF: Actually, the impact on the local community has always been a critical question. But before I elaborate more on the World Expo impact on the local community, let me tell you what has been the main difference between the event before and now: before people couldn’t travel like we do today. In other words, the World Expo was a real showcase to broadcast the main trends in terms of industrial design progress & modernity. It was really something unique that could catch what was in the air.

Then, I agree with you, there was a certain degree of positivism in the way people envision future. The World Expo event aimed at designing a vision of future, a vision of creativity that shapes our daily life. For example, in1900 Paris World Expo, the first escalators were introduced to people. Today, escalators are part of our normal way to transit in the public space (department stores, train stations, airports) but also in the private place (companies building offices).


The Chinese pavilion for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 has been transformed into a museum, and now is part of the Shanghai cultural landscape. (Photo Source: Stephane Ferrero)


SB: In fact, I can’t stop thinking that the World Expo legacy and heritage are still very vibrant. Just to name a few: in terms of architecture, the Eiffel Tower was built for the Paris World Expo in 1889 and the Atomium in Brussels was built in 1958. At the end of the day, the World Expo is a mark in History and an achievement for the country and the city that are privileged to host the event.

Let’s take the Chinese pavilion for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 as an example. After the event, the pavilion was transformed into a museum and now is part of the Shanghai cultural landscape. No doubt, this is an architectural legacy and heritage for the Shanghai cultural and art community. In the same way, all the metro lines built for the management of the expected traffic for the World Expo are still benefiting the city of Shanghai in order to further improve the public transportation network and lessen the dependency on private vehicles.

SF: Very true, this is what I had in mind when I mentioned about the World Expo local impact. World Expo productions have a significant impact on the local community, and nowadays in a globalized world: it is even more impactful on a larger scale.

However, what I’m trying to say is more about what’s going behind the scene. Behind the very noble attitude to promote progress and modernity, we need to bear in mind what is at stake. The World Expo has also been being a big political game. From the first edition in London in 1851 when the British Empire was the dominant industrial and economic power, to the Chinese edition in Shanghai in 2010, that event has been an instrumental driving force to show a country’s political power and leadership in the international community.


1958 in Brussels: “Peoples Shows.” A young Black girl fed by white spectators. (Photo Source:


SB: Let me ask you one question then: is the World Expo politically correct?

SF: Well, actually there were many “politically incorrect” events occurred during some World Expo events in the past. For example, in May 1889 during the World Expo edition in Paris, France exhibited some indigenous from the French colonies to make a “human zoo” for the benefit of sponsors and organizers.

Taken as a propaganda tool to affirm a political leadership or some political views, the World Expo, ironically, seems to be “politically incorrect” in the case I just mentioned. When you think of human dignity or when you take into consideration ethics, we can easily question or even challenge the master plan of such an event. Again, we are talking about something that aims at bringing modernity and progress to people, but in my opinion, although it has everything you want, it is often not politically, morally, ethically “correct”.

SB: Wow! Glad you said it. Recently, when some countries are using this event to make some political propaganda to the rest of the world, I also consider it as “politically incorrect”……

Controversy and power, it seems that these two are also interconnected when we talk about the World Expo event.

SB: Dubai 2020, not in May……


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