Expo 70: Theme-Park at the End of the Future


The best things about World Expositions is the aftermath! When the masses have gone home and the host-cities have to deal with the expensive, spectacular architecture that mostly serves no other purpose than being expensive and spectacular.

Expo-Architecture left out in the rain! These are the things the thousand dreams of Stellavista are made of.

Japanese Gas

Brussels, New York (twice), Montreal and Osaka are the Expos which interest me the most. While I guess that the early ones in Paris and London were certainly the most important, it´s the (post) space-age-spirit, the blatant gimmickry (which was heavily criticised) and the haunting leftovers of the big four that capture my interest. If you look at pictures and movies of the dense spectacle it is hardly imaginable that all this was only build for 6 months.

Canadian Pavillion

Pictures of Expo 70 in Osaka are some of my earliest childhood memories. Since my father had regular contact with Japanese scientists, I was exposed to many books and artefacts of japanese futurism at an early age. It was modern Japans first appearance on the international stage, proving that it had come a long way since Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Expo 70 really captured the spirit of the early post space-age. Concentrating on urban architecture, designs for modern life, robotics, and entertainment-culture that was a mixture of art and mass-media, both utilising the latest technological advances. Subsequent the Swiss and Canadian pavillions proved to be the most popular exhibits with their delicate kinetic sculptures and the introduction of the immersive IMAX-cinema.

Interior of American Pavillion

The architecture, at first glance all "showroom", "trade fair" and "theme park" was establishing japanese architects like Kikutake, Kurokawa and Tange (who was the chief architect for the project) on the world stage. Lightyears removed from the cliche of paper-walls and tatami mats, this multi-fractured architecture resonated heavily in europe.

Metabolist roof by Kenzo Tange

Larger-than-life-movies, receptive sculptures, synthetic music and hallucinogenic architecture. The planners of Expo 70 had realised that the moon was just a boring, far away rock, which ceased to capture our imagination one year after it was "conquered".
The central theme of the Expo was "progress and harmony for mankind". During its six month duration, it attracted 64 million people! Thats around 150.000 visitors per day (one peak day had reportedly 830.000 guests)! Disney must have been green with envy. People were lining up for hours to walk through the pavillions.

Only a few pavillions were "left out in the rain" after the gates closed in september 1970. One is the "Tower of the sun" which was also closed after the end of the Expo. When its state of deterioration became so bad that it was proposed to be torn down, many efforts were done to repair the tower and open it for a small number of visitors. Public interest was so strong that the openings were extended. Currently the tower is closed again, but will open in 2010 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Expo.

Tower of the Sun

Sadly most of the left over buildings were removed in 2004. The area is now a big green-zone, housing the Expo recreational park, sport facilities and parts of Expoland. The latter was the amusement park that was a part of Expo 70. It was kept open as a stand-alone attraction until a fatal rollercoaster accident killed one and injured 19 guests in May 2007. Investigations showed that the rides at Expoland were suffering from neglected maintenance. The park is currently closed for major renovations and is said to re-open sometime in the future...

These three aerial pictures taken in 1970, 1971 (one year after) and 1995 impressively show how radically the area was re-naturated. (Click to enlarge)

By the way: Expo 08 Saragoza opened last week. Did anybody hear anything about it?

Expo 70 was such a defining moment in recent japanese history, that it has become the subject for longtime scientific studies (pdf-doc) .

The massive interest to climb once more ontop of the "Tower of the sun" is a testament to the enormous power those 183 days still have on those who can remember the show.

While the actual tower fell in disrepair, prices for original memorabilia went through the roof, and artists were and are still inspired by this spectacle.


Superb japanese artist Kenji Yanobe, who was born in Osaka 1965, has taken photos of himself in an atomic survival suit in places like Chernobyl and on the grounds of Expo 70. He wanders through the debris like an alien astronaut in search of contaminated memories which are frozen in time.

Finally, some great visual reminders:
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A.J. said...

I ventured to the Osaka 70 site in '97, about the only thing left standing was the sun tower, but the place definitely resonated of finer things past. I would have died to see the original Pepsi "fog" Pavilion with the entrance scaffolds designed by Tadanori Yokoo. I'm a believer that Osaka was the climax, and Knoxville was beginning of the end of our beloved World's Fairs.
At least I was fortunate enough to experience Expo '67, one of the most influential events on my wonder years.


StellaVista said...

Shame on me, I haven´t seen your Expo article! Good thing: it gives me more reason to explore your archives.

Jamison said...

You know you have a good Expo from the monumental architecture it leaves behind. Brussels has the Atomium, Seattle has the Space Needle, New York has the Unisphere (which sits on the Perisphere's foundations) and the NY Pavilion, Montreal has Habitat 67 and the Biosphere, Osaka has the Tower of the Sun, and Knoxville has the Sunsphere.

Anonymous said...

Hi there -- where did you get those amazing aeriel views of the Expo site? I am working on a book about the Metabolist architects called PROJECT JAPAN, and one of the crucial chapters is on Expo '70. We would love to find hi-res versions of these before, during, and after images. Please contact me on jwestcott@oma.com -- thanks!

StellaVista said...

thanks for leaving a comment on my site and sorry for my late reply. My blogging now takes place -like so many others- on tumblr (stellavista.tumblr.com)

regarding your question about those wonderful aerial pictures of the osaka site: i found them all via google. I remember that it was a japanese page, but since it is quite a long time ago i have no idea where i found them.

I wish you all the best of luck for your book.