Click here for a slideshow of national pavilions at Expo 2010.
At precisely 9 AM on May Day, hundreds of new turnstiles will begin to spin along the banks of Shanghai's Huangpu River, giving way to more than half a million visitors as they inaugurate the opening of Expo 2010, the most expensive and well-attended World's Fair in history. To American ears, the concept of a World's Fair sounds archaic, and when applied to Shanghai, a contemporary symbol of all that is new, vibrant, and even threatening, it's disconcerting. But in Shanghai, where the future is an obsession, this reported $46 billion hat-tip to the past makes perfect sense: just as New York once announced its global pre-eminence via World's Fairs in 1939 and, again, in 1964, the organizers of Expo 2010 view the six month event as nothing less than Shanghai's coronation as the next great world city.
World's Fairs have their origins in medieval European trade fairs, with their modern incarnation coming in 1851, with the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Continents , held in London. Organized by Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition's primary purpose was to display the fruits and achievements of high Victorian England and its empire. Its most famous display piece-- the steel and glass Crystal Palace designed and built to hold much of the Exhibition--was a technological and architectural wonder that was unequaled. London's status was enhanced and, soon after, cities in the United States and Europe, eager to emulate its success, held their own Expos, often featuring at least one dynamic new piece of architecture. The Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889, for example, featured the Eifel Tower; Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 introduced Chicago's famous Midway; and, most recently, the Expo 67 in Montreal featured Buckminster Fuller's Montreal Biosphere, a twenty-story high geodesic dome.