Second plenary session: World Exhibitions and Urban Effect

Friday, November 3
1:00 PM–2:30 PM

Location: Senate Room, Senate House, University of London

Speaker/performer: Heesok Chang, Joy Knoblauch, Peter Scriver

Days: Friday, 3 November
Lecture: Plenary session

Heesok Chang (Vassar): “When the World’s Fair Leaves Town: The Urban Legacies of New York ’39 and ’64”

Every world’s fair promises the future, not only the advent of new technologies, gadgets, and commodities, but the transformation of daily life in the form of remade cities. Revisiting Walter Benjamin’s claim that the intoxicating utopian energies of yesterday’s modernity may be retrieved from its melancholic ruins, this paper probes the grounds of Flushing Meadows to question the legacy of New York’s world fairs. Did they announce the home invasion of fantastic technologies or simply the coming of more world fairs? Did they help us imagine a repaired world or did they mortify the city in the image of the exhibition itself? 

Joy Knoblauch (Michigan): Design Beyond Understanding: Expo 67 and the New Brutalism

Learning from perception, anthropology, medicine and psychology, architects such as Gilles Gangnon, Moshe Safdie, and Reyner Banham were inspired by a possible relationship between architecture and human science that would allow architecture to have a more immediate impact on occupants. Architecture, film, and urban design at Expo 67 exhibited this new trend in design, eschewing education for impact. The simple construction of the Man in the Community pavilion privileged geometry over enclosure, leaving the interior open to the raindrops that would fall through and collect in a pond. Visitors remained physically connected with the weather outside, directly impacted by their environment. The organizers of the US Pavilion explained that the public would be “confronted with the raw material of experience; all that is demanded of him is participation. Not understanding. Not agreement. Participation.” Avant garde film at the US Pavilion and Man and His Health sought to have an immediate, shocking impact on their audience. After the Congrès internationaux d'architecture moderne(CIAM), architecture and urban design sought to combat the alienation of the postwar city through lessons from the human sciences. The aim was not to educate or to aid in understanding, but to speak to the animal and emotional nature of the audience. The cold war era display aimed to communicate the glory of its national members and to place Canada on the world stage, not through rational appeals, agreement or understanding but participation and emotion. With its rough materials, its engagement with human science and its emotional appeals, Expo 67 demonstrated the "formal bloody-mindedness" of a field turning from a didactic relationship to the public in favor of a more visceral connection.

Peter Scriver (Adelaide): Icon of the Quiet Revolution: A post-national reading of the Architecture of the Quebec Pavilion, by way of India, Africa and Australia

The architecture of Expo’67 was notable on multiple counts, not least the opportunity it gave to young and relatively untested designers to explore new ideas, some of which would challenge core assumptions beyond the material substance and spatial framework of the built-environment itself.   Relative to the familiar nation-boosting cant and romanticism of pavilion design in the tradition of previous World fairs, the Quebec pavilion attracted both critical and popular acclaim for the decidedly unsentimental and, at the time, strikingly original translucence of the scheme. Among the most technically sophisticated pavilions of the fair, yet serenely sober in its symmetry and composure, it epitomised Quebec’s on-going Quiet Revolution in which its young competition-winning design team had been formed.

However, all was not quite as it seemed. In fact, associate design architect Luc Durand had only just returned to Quebec after over a decade of overseas work and training in post-war Europe and postcolonial India. Opening his own architectural practice in New Delhi between 1958 and 1962, he had become an insider in the small cosmopolitan circle of modernist architects, designers and publishers who were passionately engaged with the question of how new form, space, and vision could open the minds of the former colonised to the wider world.

With reference to the more self-consciously postcolonial designs of other Expo pavilions that sought to foreground an emerging 'globalist' sensibility, a close reading of Durand’s formative encounter with India informs an alternative, more critical interpretation of the Quebec Pavilion as the putative icon of a resurgent nation.