hidden europe 20

Expo architecture

by Nicky Gardner


Expo is back in the news with Milan having just been selected to host the 2015 World Fair. At their best, Expos have served as a boost to imaginative urban regeneration. We look at the Expo legacy in various European cities.

In the last issue of hidden europe, we featured London’s most cherished ghost — the Crystal Palace which once stood in Hyde Park in the centre of the capital. It was initially built for the Great Exhibition of 1851. After the exhibition closed, it was dismantled and reconstructed at Sydenham in South London, where it remained until it was destroyed by fire in 1936. But what of other buildings in Europe that once stood centre stage in great exhibitions? hidden europe has been tracking down a few Expo relicts.

The great World Expositions (often dubbed Expos for short) have spawned some remarkable architecture. Visitors to Barcelona often make a pilgrimage to the building that originally served as the German pavilion at the 1929 Expo in the Catalan city. It is a wonderful building, a temple-like icon that epitomises all that was beautiful in the Modern Movement. Sleek, textured and cool, the pavelló is an oasis of polished travertine and marble on lovely Montjuïc southwest of the city centre. From Montjuïc, there are super views over Barcelona and the opportunity to see the architectural legacies of the 1929 Expo and the 1992 Olympics - which were both based on and around Montjuïc.

The general idea with Expos is that landmark buildings are constructed for the event, and then dismantled after the Expo has concluded. And that is just what happened to the German pavilion for the 1929 event in Barcelona. It was demolished in January 1930. Later, Mies van der Rohe commented that working in Barcelona had been a high point of his professional life, and such was the enthusiasm for the lost pavilion that in 1986 it was reconstructed. Some other buildings on Montjuic won a reprieve from demolition. The Palau Nacional is a beautiful palace that was constructed as a centrepiece for the 1929 Expo. Original plans to demolish it met with fierce opposition from Barcelona citizens and the building found new life as home to a museum devoted to Catalan visual art.

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