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NATION ON DISPLAY: BRITISH EXPO PAVILIONS IN-BETWEEN ART AND ARCHITECTURE

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NATION ON DISPLAY: BRITISH EXPO PAVILIONS IN-BETWEEN ART AND ARCHITECTURE
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   ABOUT THE MAIN THEME NATION ON DISPLAY: BRITISH EXPO PAVILIONS IN-BETWEEN  ART AND ARCHITECTURE BY  ZELAL CINAR TOBB UNIVERSITY OF ECONOMICS & TECHNOLOGY FACULTY OF FINE ARTS, DESIGN & ARCHITECTUREDEPARTMENT OF ARCHITECTUREzcinar@etu.edu.tr   ABOUT THE MAIN THEME  CINAR, 2014 A world’s fair, world fair, universal exposition, or world expo is a large public exhibiti-on that takes place every five years for the duration of six months. The Expos vary in character and held in varying various parts of the world. Since the first world exhibition held in 1851 in England, they have been an important locus for nations to expose their  technological and cultural vicissitudes as well as situating themselves amongst other nations. Expos are expected to allow people to explore the world outside of their every-day experience, other cultures, new scientific advancements, and inventions. They also provide a dialogue platform for nations, strengthen their cooperation ties as well as providing economic opportunities. 1 Earlier, the expos were especially focused on trade and were seen as a comparative display of technological advancements and innovations. From then on, besides promo- ting communication amongst nations and providing a location in which trade links might be fostered, Expos began to address issues of mankind. Apart from technology and inventions, cross-cultural dialogue and exchange of solutions became principal subjects of expos. In order to provide a context for cultural and artistic exchange, each fair was given a particular theme of cultural significance that affects the full spectrum of human experience. This was to be a broadly idealistic theme representing universal hopes and aspirations, such as ‘Better City, Better Life’ in Shanghai, 2010.National pavilions in Expos are in large measure expected to represent the country itself for its citizens and thereby evoke a sense of the atmosphere of the country for  the visitors from abroad. This paper argues that the idea of constructing the ideal international image for the country and displaying this very image among other count-ries is seen to precede not only the experience of the space, but also the architectural character of the pavilion. Thus, pavilions are meant to display something other than the country itself. Furthermore, the pavilions are not in a communicative relation with the perceiver and their purpose and meaning are established entirely in accordance with  the message to be transmitted.In order to develop this line of thinking, this paper explores British exhibition buildings in three particular international exhibitions that marked the Expo history. First of all, Crystal Palace of the first international exhibition in 1851 is taken into consideration as it laid the foundations of the expo events. Second the British pavilion in 1967 Montreal Expo is explored. Expo 67 has taken on a significant role of raising awareness on man’s social responsibility and environmental consciousness, besides technology and innova- tions. Lastly, the British pavilion in the first Expo of the 21st century, 2010 Shanghai Expo, is explored as another milestone that showcased solutions for universal problems of humanity. The Great Exhibition The 19th century was an era of significant developments in the fields of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, electricity, and metallurgy that laid the ground for the tech-nological advances of the 20th century. While Britain stood as the world’s foremost industrial power by 1850, continental governments such as Germany, France offered more support to skilled craftsmen and encouraged industry through regular exhibiti-ons. The first world exhibition, The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nati-ons, its full tittle, was born out of the concern that Britain lacked training in the fields of art and industry.Prince Albert, head of the Society of Arts, had the idea of organizing an exhibition to impress the world with Britain’s industrial achievements. Manifesting the progressive optimism of the 19th century, this exhibition would be an international dialogue plat-form, bringing together industry and commerce, ideas and values, peoples and nations. As envisioned by the Prince and the Royal Commission charged with its planning, the exhibition was meant to be a display of international goodwill, as a peaceful spectacle of national identities. The Prince declares his vision about the exhibition as follows: “ Nobody . . . who has paid any attention to the peculiar features of our present era, will doubt for a moment that we are living at a period of most wonderful transition, which tends rapidly to accomplish that great end, to which, indeed, all history points—the realization of the unity of mankind . . . The distances which separated the different nations and parts of the globe are rapidly vanishing before the achievements of modern invention, and we can traverse them with incredible ease; . . . thought is communicated with the rapidity, and even by the power, of lightning  .” 2 The site chosen for the exhibition was in Hyde Park, London. A committee was appo-inted and an international competition was launched for the design of the temporary exhibition building. Despite one month being given, 245 entries were received. Joseph Paxton’s project, later called the Crystal Palace, was selected. The building was comp-leted within five months and the exhibition opened on May 1st 1 May 1851. The inte-rior of Crystal Palace revealed how its designer, Paxton, had previously designed and built greenhouses. Based on his experiences in building gigantic greenhouses, Paxton’s pioneering use of cast iron structure and a precursor of the glass curtain wall allow actually prefabricated sections and could therefore be erected very quickly. It can be said that Crystal Palace eventually became the masterpiece of the time with its novel architecture and impressive dimensions (Fig.1). Fig. 1. Crystal Palace, 1851, exterior, http://archexpo.net/en/contenu/great-exhibition-crystal-palace-1851#. VKEZHshA, 2015-01-27. The Crystal Palace was a vast, rectan-gular hall. Inside the building, by drawing a longitudinal section through human cul- ture, the exhibition was emphasizing prog-ress and evolution. A huge open gallery ran along the main axis, with wings exten-ding either side. The main exhibition space was two stories high. The building had a flat roof, except for the central transept, which was covered by a barrel-vaulted roof  that stood at the top of the arch (Fig.2, 2a).   ABOUT THE MAIN THEME  CINAR, 2014 Apart from emphasizing Britain’s leading role in industrial innovation, organization of the Exhibition came in response to the demand for creating new economic links between the nations. In other words, The Exhibition was intended to raise the level of in-dustrial design and display production and acquire new markets. 25 countries including France, the United States, Russia, Turkey and Egypt attended with exhibits falling into four main categories: Raw Materials, Machinery, Manufacturers and Fine Arts. During its six months run, over six million visitors came to see more than 14.000 exhibitors, displaying all types of craft and manufacture; paintings, sculpture, tiles, machinery and  textiles. While all nations had a place at the Great Exhibition, not all had been accepted on equal terms. Like other goods at the exhibition, national identities were subject to com-parison and competition. What this signifies is the exhibition was conceptually setting  the nations apart, while physically bringing them together. Through the south transept, which is the main entrance, the visitors of Crystal Palace encountered a twofold star- ting point: the beginning of the exhibition itself and the ‘point-zero’ of human civilization. 3  From south to north along the central transept, various degrees of primitiveness were exhibited: Tunis, China, Turkey, Egypt and India. Progressive line continued from east to west in the main nave: from the new World, through the continental Europe and finally  to the British Empire. In this extensive section, the visitors could discover Britain’s ra-ilroad equipment, steam engines and farm equipment, which were almost unknown in Europe (Fig. 3.).Bringing all the nations together in a global arena to compare industrial mastery, a new way of competition emerged in the Great Exhibition. Contrary to exhibition’s inter-nationalist spirit, nations were defined relatively by their showing at the exhibition and  this showing consisted of much more than the mere display of industrial goods. Where-as the competition between national industries was plain among the exhibits housed in (Left) Fig. 2. The Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, 1851, http://archexpo.net/en/contenu/great-exhibition-crys- tal-palace-1851#.VKEZHshA, 2015-01-27.(Right) Fig. 2a. Queen Victoria opens the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London in 1851,http://archexpo.net/en/contenu/great-exhibition-crystal-palace-1851#.VKEZHshA, 2015-01-27.  the Crystal Palace, the competition of the national identities took place in more subtle realms. As Auerbach indicates, in the accounts of the Great Exhibition, English virtues of industry and prescience were praised but other nationalities were described harsher. Indians, for instance, were poor and simple; Turkish people were handsome, except when they grow raging and furious; Italians were beggars and lazy in general. Works of Germans characterized as militaristic, contrasted with the peace-loving British. 4 Fig. 3. Floor plan of the Great Exhibition, 1851, http://ad009cdnb.archdaily.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/51d479f7b3fc4b9e0f00019b_ad-classic-the-crystal-palace-joseph-paxton_800px-crystal_palace_-_plan.jpg, 2015-01-27. In the end, internationalist spirit of the Exhibition took on some competitive overtones of nationalism. While it promoted Britain as the leader of technical progress, the nati-ons were hierarchically categorized as the modern, progressive Britain, its continental competitors and the others. It is worth noting that the Exhibition itself was srcinally intended not so much to showcase British prowess as to shore up British design at a  juncture when Britain felt itself to be slipping behind its continental competitors. The Exhibition’s effectiveness in bringing different nations into proximity with one another went hand in hand with the existing segregation of the nations within the Crystal Palace itself. Moreover, its proclamations of international amity and peace coexisted with in- tense expressions of nationalism. Hereby, the Exhibition was an important event in the formation of Britain’s position as a key player in the international arena. Expo Montreal 1967 The sixties were a unique era, the spirit of which Expo 67 reflects: tradition had been engulfed by modernism and replaced with an ingrained belief in the brilliance of the fu-   ABOUT THE MAIN THEME  CINAR, 2014  ture. Besides nuclear threats, the cold war was raging at the time, there were regional wars such as Vietnam War, Africa was transforming from colonialism to independence and social changes were occurring in the United States. While embracing canons of modernity, countries were developing new consciousness after witnessing two World Wars, the brutal violence of European colonization and the emerging environmental effects of over-consumption. In such a violent and uneasy time, people wanted to believe  that the future would be rosier than the recent past and Expo 67 represented such an idealized utopia. Expo 67 also marked a turning point in the history of Expos. It was no longer techno-logical and industrial progress alone that were to be presented and promoted in the exhibition, but also man’s social responsibility and environmental consciousness. So as to address universal problems of humanity, the Expo’s theme, ‘Man and his World’, was borrowed from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1939 novel, La Terre des Hommes. The theme was meant to encapsulate the world’s progress in industry, science, and culture. Indeed, new technologies seemed to confirm that humanity had achieved an unprecedented control of its surroundings. Embracing the most significant aspects of human experience and endeavor, the exhibition presented the story of Man in various international thematic pavilions: Man and his Health, Man in the community, Man and  the Ocean, Man and the Space, etc. While the overall focus overwhelmingly focused on obstacles that humanity had overcome, a number of pavilions hinted at the new prob-lems such as population growth and increasing urbanization.Sir Basil Spence was the designer of the British Pavilion of Expo 67, as well as the general adviser of all visual aspects of the British site. Spence designed a massive white pavilion made up of two halls and a monumental tower. The visitors could go under the cantilevered halls, to reach the tower that acted as the entrance to the pavilion Topped off with a Union Jack sculpture, the tower was designed to signify Britain’s unfinished business in the world (Fig. 4). Fig. 4. British Pavilion, 1967, exterior, http://expo67.ncf.ca/britain_p1.html, 2015-01-27. The exhibitions inside the pavilion tra-ced the history of Britain, from pre-Ro-man times to today, with a final section looking to its future. The country’s main industries and technological achieve-ments are featured in displays as well as the daily life of British people and the cultural excitement the country. Brita-in’s international influence, especially in  terms of political institutions, is highli-ghted. A message of peace emanates from a series of metal sculptures that represent human beings communica- ting with each other (Fig. 5, 5a).The pavilion contained five different sections: Shaping Britain-telling about Britain’s earliest history, Genius of Britain-great figures from Britain’s cultural past, Britain To-day, Industrial Britain-clearly the indicative of its future by displaying all industrial de- velopments of the country, and finally Britain in the World- emphasizing the unifying influence of Britain’s language, governmental systems, law and traditions on the world. Evidently, the pavilion aimed to tell anything but a tapestry of British history. The pavilion put emphasis neither on universal issues nor on the theme of Expo 67.In sum, the British pavilion’s overarching aim was to tell a compelling story about the people who became a great nation and helped to shape the history of the world. From outside, a white, windowless building, dominated by a rugged tower with a Union Jack at  the top, inside displaying all conceivable aspects of British history and achievement, and British pop music and mini-skirts, the pavilion was proclaiming pride in the country’s past and confidence in its future. At the end, displaying the country’s past, today and future, the pavilion attempted to highlight Britain’s leading role and did not tell much about the World itself. Expo Shanghai 2010 Titled ‘Better City, Better Life’, Expo Shanghai 2010 was the biggest of its kind since  the Expo phenomenon began in1851 with the Great Exhibition. The British pavilion in Expo 2010, called the Seed Cathedral, was designed by Thomas Heartherwick Studio. The general concept of the pavilion centered on the image of Britain as the pioneer of integrating nature into cities. The world’s first public park of modern times was in Britain and the world’s major botanical institution is in London. Inspired by a project of  the institution where they have been collecting 25 percent of all the world’s plant spe-cies, they realized that even though the trees and flowers are on show, the seeds are not. Thereby the pavilion evolved as Seed Cathedral with the goal of encapsulating and showing seeds (Fig. 6, 7). (Left) Fig. 5. Interior of British Pavilion, 1967, http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/284878/details/cana-da+montreal+site+of+expo+67//, 2015-01-27.(Right) Fig. 5a. Interior of British Pavilion, 1967, http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/284878/details/cana-da+montreal+site+of+expo+67//, 2015-01-27.   ABOUT THE MAIN THEME  CINAR, 2014 Fig. 6. The Seed Cathedral, exterior, http://www.heatherwick.com/uk-pavilion/, 2015-01-27.Fig. 7. The Seed Cathedral, interior, http://www.heatherwick.com/uk-pavilion/, 2015-01-27. The pavilion consisted of two main elements: the Seed Cathedral and the multi-layered landscape that surrounds it. The Seed Cathedral is a steel and timber structure pier-ced by 60,000 identical rods of clear acrylic, which pass through aluminum sleeves. The dense aggregation of these rods forms both the exterior and interior surfaces of  the building. By day, the daylight comes in along the length of each rod and illuminates  the building’s interior. By night, the artificial light in each rod illuminates the tips of the hairs outside it and directs the light outwards. The acrylic rods on the exterior skin also serve as elements for making the building responsive to its environment. They move when the wind blows.Heatherwick indicates that their design strategy for the pavilion established three aims to meet the government’s key expectation that the pavilion should become one of  the five most popular attractions of the Expo. First aim was to design a pavilion whose architecture was a direct manifestation of what it was exhibiting. He mentions that they did not wanted to make a separate building and have separate content. Therefore, the interior of the pavilion was intentionally left free.Consequently the Seed Cathedral was not meant to display anything other than itself. As Heatherwick explains, the pavilion intends to engage meaningfully with expo’s theme, rather than creating an advertisement for Britain. However, it solely focuses on Brita-in’s environmental engagement and stresses the country’s record as a pioneer of mo-dern public park. Emphasizing just one superior aspect of their cities offers visitors no more experience about British cities. In this way, the pavilion represents the hegemonic and official ideology rather than the country itself.The second aim was ensuring a significant area of open public space around the pavi-lion so that the visitors could interact with it. They can either relax in this landscape, or watch the pavilion from a clear vantage point. This multi-layered landscape is crumpled and folded like a sheet of paper, suggesting that the pavilion is a gift from Britain to China. This is important as to the role of the host and dynamics of the encounter shifts based on the changes in status, relations and representational priorities of the count-ries (Fig. 8).The third idea was the pavilion would be unique and stand out amongst other pavili-ons. They realized even though the visitors would not go inside the pavilion, they would see it from outside. With the aim of using the power of simplicity and clarity, inside of  the pavilion is intentionally left free. There are no exhibitions, no projections, no televi-sions inside the building. So, the entire experience of the interior of the British pavilion offers visitors nothing than itself (Fig. 9). (Left) Fig. 8. The Seed Cathedral, open public park, http://www.heatherwick.com/uk-pavilion/, 2015-01-27.(Right) Fig. 9. The Seed Cathedral, interior, http://www.heatherwick.com/uk-pavilion/, 2015-01-27. Expos are global events where cultural exchange is as important as sharing innovati-on, promoting progress, nation branding. In this regard, the national pavilions in Expos are expected to provide cross-cultural dialogue. In the British pavilion of Expo 2010, governmental goal of being one of the top five most popular attractions shaped the de-sign and consequently the Seed Cathedral became a mere object, displaying anything  than itself. Expos as Rituals of Self-Congratulation Expos are grounds for the architectural representation of different cultures and their socio-cultural implications. Encountering the others in an international arena inevitably  triggers the questions of national identity and its possible architectural representati-ons. As explained above, the exhibition buildings acquire a number of meanings related with technological developments, progress, innovation as well as national pride. Built  years apart from each other, Crystal Palace of 1851, British Pavilion in Montreal 1967
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