x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Questions answered on world expos after Dubai’s 2020 success

What is an expo? When was it first conceived? What famous creations have first been shown at expos? All are answered in this Q&A.

Artistic impression of Al Wasl Plaza - Oasis Fountain. Courtesy Dubai Expo 2020
Artistic impression of Al Wasl Plaza - Oasis Fountain. Courtesy Dubai Expo 2020

DUBAI // With celebrations to mark the emirate winning the right to host Expo 2020 still in the minds of many people across the country, we try to answer some of the common questions associated with the event.

What is an expo?

Also known as a world fair, world exposition and universal exposition, the event brings together dozens of nations, allowing them to showcase innovative products, technology, the arts as well as promote their countries.

Are there different types of expo?

Yes. Dubai was awarded the right to host a registered expo. They are held every five years and are also known as major expos.

Alternatively, a recognised expo, also known as a minor expo, are much smaller in scope, usually running for between three weeks to three months. Yeosu, South Korea, held the last minor expo last year.

How long does an expo last?

They range from as little as six weeks to a year, as in the case of the New York World Fair of 1939. Typically in modern times, an expo runs for six months.

Why was the expo concept started and by whom?

The first world fair took place in 1851 in London. Known as the Great Exhibition, it took place at the Crystal Palace, which housed pavilions from 28 countries and was later destroyed by fire. It was done as a way to celebrate modern industrial design and technology and was organised by Prince Albert and members of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

Which other cities have hosted an expo?

In all, both major and minor forms of the expo have been held 63 times across the globe, with some cities hosting it multiple times, such as Paris hosting the event five times and Liege, in Belgium, three times. Shanghai held the last major expo in 2010 and Milan is hosting it in 2015.

What are pavilions at expos?

Pavilions are split into a number of categories. Shanghai featured pavilions built by the host city to highlight a particular theme for its expo as a whole. Then there are national pavilions, that showcase the products and technology from countries taking part in the expo. Lastly, there are also pavilions to represent companies and international organisations.

Who decides where an expo should be held?

The Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) selects the winning city after examining rival bids. The organisation was set up in 1928 primarily to limit the number of world fairs taking place and to provide an official framework for countries to host world expos. It is made up of 167 member states. Signatories agree only to participate in BIE-sanctioned expos.

What are some of the famous landmarks and innovations that have been first shown at previous world expos?

Previous expos led to the commercial typewriter and telephone, first shown in Philadelphia in 1876, the ice-cream cone in 1904 in St Louis, the world’s first mobile phones in Japan in 1970, the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1889, computers and the fax machine in New York in 1964 and the television in 1939 show in New York.

* Nadeem Hanif