World Expo and Its Legacy

World Expo is a large exhibition with countries worldwide coming together to showcase their latest innovations and inventions while promoting cultural globalization. World Expos occur almost once every five years and all countries that are a part of this event bid to become the ‘host’ for the next expo. Usually, the event can last from three to six months. More than 100 world expositions have been held in over 20 countries throughout the world since the mid-19th century. The Bureau of International Exhibitions (BIE), headquartered in Paris, was established by the Convention Relating to International Exhibitions in 1928 to supervise all the international expositions. The primary goals of the BIE are to administer the timeline, the bidding, the selection, and the coordination of all international exhibitions. In addition, the BIE has to frame a regulatory structure for the participating countries to be in line with the host country and the theme of the respective World Expo.

Formally, the World Expo is called the International Registered Exhibition and is more of a cultural and artistic interface that encompasses universal themes while making the whole experience worthwhile. For instance, the Universal Exposition of Seville (Expo’ 92) took place in Seville, Spain. It revolved around the theme of ‘The Age of Discovery’ to celebrate 500 years since the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. Similarly, the theme of Expo 2010 Shanghai China was ‘Better City – Better Life’, embarking on the journey of Shanghai as the world’s next great city, and this one was one of the world’s biggest expo on record. Apart from focusing on the theme, the participating countries also indulge in discussing current world issues and future developmental trends.
The last exhibition (Expo 2015) was held in Milan, Italy, with the primary theme ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for life’. This was Milan’s second time hosting an exposition; the first one was the 1906 Milan International. The Expo 2015 focused on all dynamics relating to food and diet. Also, it highlighted various global scenarios and surfacing issues in the world, such as the right to healthy, secure, and sufficient food for all. Usually, the central theme umbrellas into a few subthemes; besides, the participating country chooses which specific subtheme they are promoting and designs their pavilions accordingly while addressing a certain concern. In the case of Expo 2015 Milan, these themes focused on dynamics like Science for food safety, security, and quality, Innovation for the agro-food supply chain, Technology in agriculture and biodiversity, among many others. Furthermore, the Expo 2015 aimed to be a worldwide ‘collaborative’ expo where all countries provide solid support in addressing the main challenges of malnutrition with overeating and poorly-disciplined diets on the flip side.

A Brief History

In 1851, the first-ever World Exposition took place at Hyde Park, London, and was called the ‘Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’ and invited countries from all over the world. The expo took place between 1 May and 15 October 1851 and was organized by British inventors Sir Henry Cole and Prince Albert. This event emphasized advanced technological achievements of the participating nations—including an early model of the fax machine and an advanced telescope—along with extraordinary curiosities, like a rare Celtic brooch and the world’s largest diamond. Over 18,000 traders exhibited over 100,000 products, including machinery, new materials, as well as civil and military products. These exhibitions often have a symbolic and exquisite structuring in their architecture; just like the flawless creation, the Crystal Palace that housed the entire exhibition. The 1851 World Expo had successfully placed international exhibitions on the map while creating a unique platform for global exchange. Due to its massive and influential appeal and potential, countries worldwide are very passionate about hosting it as well as participating in the event.

The event began a tradition of showcasing the best and brightest minds and novelties from around the world. Some of the most significant innovations presented were as follows. Alexander Graham Bell first introduced his invention of the telephone in 1876 at the Philadelphia World’s Fair. When Paris hosted the World’s Fair in 1889, the city had over 100 artists submit designs for a monument built in the center of Paris and act as the entrance to the fair. Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel’s firm won the bid and built the Eiffel Tower. At the time, the structure reached 1,000 feet, making it the tallest structure in the world. At the Chicago 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the Ferris wheel was first introduced. The dishwasher was also first introduced at the Chicago World’s Colombian Exposition in 1893. An x-ray machine debuted at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, showcasing what the new scientific discovery could do. The machine was almost immediately used in hospitals. Ice cream cones, first broadcast television, the Space Needle, the first color television, the first video calling machine, the debut of the Ford Mustang, the world’s first touchscreen, were amongst some of the most successful inventions during such exhibitions. World Expos have structured the course of human history for more than 170 years while showcasing the world of tomorrow.

Dubai Expo 2020 – What to Expect

The next event (Expo 2020) to be hosted by Dubai, UAE, the first event of its kind in the Middle East, was initially scheduled between 20 October 2020 and 10 April 2021. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the country was brought to lockdown. As a result, the event was pushed to 1 October 2021 – 31 March 2022 after both the Tokyo Summer Olympics and the Paralympics announced the delay of their events. Even though the dates have been postponed, the event is still called ‘Expo 2020’ due to marketing and branding purposes. On 27 November 2013, Dubai was awarded the hosting rights for this event, and it has been a continuous hard work and strategizing process. The theme of Expo 2020 is ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, with three specific subthemes – Opportunity, Sustainability, and Mobility while providing a global platform to the world’s upcoming innovators, thinkers, and pioneers. In addition, countries will be clustered not by their geography but basis Expo 2020’s three subthemes depending on their focus areas as essential to building a better future for everyone. Apart from the Expo 2020 development plan, the venture gave way to 35 infrastructure projects within the country worth Dh30 billion (~8 million USD), including expansion of roadways and extension of metro lines, which further helps to boost the economy of the nation as a part of their tourism strategy.

The first subtheme of Expo 2020 – Opportunity aims at bringing people together to showcase various ideas regarding education, employment, and emerging industries. The purpose is about finding similar grounds and unlocking the potential for people who have similar ideas but belong to different cultures and backgrounds. The Opportunity Pavilion, designed by Cox Architecture and named ‘Opti’, is intended to trigger empathy in the visitors with the desire to create a better world for the forthcoming generations. The visitor experience revolves around patterns that challenge their thinking on basic human needs – food, water, and energy – while questioning their contribution to the environment in real life and what role they play in bringing change in their societies. For instance, the Belarus Pavilion focuses on the idea ‘Forest of Future Technology’, emphasizing how technology coupled with nature can coexist and complement each other. On the other hand, the Indian Pavilion will showcase the ‘New India’ and how they have used human resources and technology to their benefit.

This subtheme pivots the idea of executing more with less alongside protecting and preserving resources and the environment for the future. The Sustainability Pavilion, named ‘Terra’, will include sustainable surroundings such as solar energy and water condensing trees while discovering global projects that provide real-life solutions to existing world issues and help create a more sustainable planet. The Singapore Pavilion at Expo 2020, themed ‘Nature Nurture Future’, represents a three-dimensional greenery experience that exhibits the nation’s history on how they used their rainforests to preserve the ecosystem. One other thought-provoking element of the concept is to showcase the balance of how to be urban or city-like while remaining eco-friendly at the same time.

The idea behind this subtheme is moving forward. The design of the Mobility Pavilion (named ‘Alif’) revolves around how people, goods, ideas, and data and artificial intelligence have evolved over so many years, both virtually and physically. It showcases the world’s journey through ancient civilizations to the possibilities and opportunities the future holds for all of us. As a part of the design, this thematic Pavilion will include the world’s largest passenger lift that can carry over 160 individuals at once. The Australian Pavilion represents one of the world’s most multicultural societies and its transformation over 60,000 years while displaying how their cultural assets and innovations have worked towards a better economy and enriching lives.

In a post-pandemic scenario with transformed economies and forms of collaboration, the organizers of Expo 2020 are preparing for the event that will reunite the world on the back of strong precautionary measures to ensure health and safety. The expo is expected to welcome more than 192 participants and millions of visitors while supporting tourism growth, motivating the development of groundbreaking businesses in the UAE, and enhancing the country’s international reputation as a business destination.

– Aishwarya Lalchandani (Student of MA in Applied Economics at Christ University, Bengaluru)

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