x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Three of the best Expo pavilions

Intended to be eye-catching and temporary, World Expo pavilions provide a canvas for architects to take chances. Here are three memorable examples.

Mies Van de Rohe's Barcelona paviliion. Quim Llenas / Cover / Getty Images
Mies Van de Rohe's Barcelona paviliion. Quim Llenas / Cover / Getty Images

The pavilions built for international expositions are the mayflies of the architectural world, designed with a lifespan measuring months rather than years. As vehicles for national and commercial projection, their raison d'etre is to stand out in a crowd and because of these factors, architects have tended to use pavilion design as an opportunity for formal and technical experimentation. Many that survive become white elephants, but some enter the annals of architectural history and an even more select few manage to capture the public imagination long after their host events are forgotten. The three examples here are the very best of the best:

The Crystal Palace, London, 1851

Built in London's Hyde Park to house the world's first Expo, The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, the Crystal Palace is arguably the greatest and one of the most revolutionary structures in the history of architecture. Not only was the Crystal Palace one of the earliest large-scale examples of standardisation and prefabrication in building, it also housed the world's first major installation of public toilets, which cost a penny to use and from which the phrase "to spend a penny" derives. Designed by a gardener, Joseph Paxton, who was inspired by the leaf structure of water lilies, the result was an enormous building of wood, iron, and plate glass that became a symbol for the Victorian Age. It was relocated in 1854 and survived until 1936 when it was destroyed in a fire.

The Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1889

Designed by the engineer Gustave Eiffel as a temporary entrance gate for the Exposition Universelle that marked the centennial celebration of the French Revolution, the Eiffel Tower is the classic example of a structure that was widely reviled when it was built but survived long enough to enjoy a dramatic reversal in public opinion. Built from 18,038 pieces of wrought iron and 2.5 million rivets, at 324 metres it was the tallest structure in the world for 41 years before the Chrysler Building in New York claimed that title in 1930. It remains the tallest building in Paris and is now an instantly recognisable icon of both the city and of France throughout the world.

The German Pavilion, Barcelona, 1929

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's temporary German pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition is now best known as the Barcelona Pavilion, the building for which the Barcelona chair and lounger was designed. It was one of the first temporary exhibition buildings to function as an exhibit in its own right and, thanks to its radical reinterpretation of the relationship between such fundamental concepts of structure and enclosure, interior and exterior, it became an icon of international modernism and one of the most feted buildings of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the original building was demolished soon after the Expo had finished. The pavilion that now sits at the foot of Montjuic in Barcelona is a meticulous replica, constructed by a group of Spanish architects in the 1980s, from original drawings and photographs and plans.