Since 2007, I have been traveling and photographing the remaining architecture, art, and landscaping of the World’s Fairs, dating back to the 19th century. My aim is to illustrate how these temporary events have permanently transformed the urban sites on which they were held. Often, I revisit the same sites over a span of years, documenting how they transform along with the changing priorities of the locale.
Beginning with London’s great Crystal Palace of 1851 and the first official World’s Fair (now more commonly known as “Expos”), these spectacles have long served as celebrations of architecture, technology, and the might of industrialized nations.
Much can be gleaned from viewing how these sites have aged, offering a prism into the hows and whys of preservation and repurposing of architecture. Since many of the actual fair pavilions were large, unwieldy, and hard to maintain, the majority of these structures now have a very different life than their original intention. They now exist as office buildings, museums, homes, casinos, amusement parks, or simply as abandoned relics to the goals of an era long-gone.
The scope of the photographs offer examples of the myriad directions that these sites and structures have taken in the intervening decades. For example, Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome of 1967 in Montréal glitters in the light as it is now home to an environmental museum. But today it lacks its original, white acrylic shell, which was lost to fire during a routine welding. In the foreground, a small sustainable house is visible, complete with a green façade while plants drip down around the windows. It seems a strange neighbor to the unearthly dome behind it.
These sites and fantastical towers, when viewed together in my photographs, provide a dynamic overview of how World’s Fairs have left, in their wake, some of the most extraordinary monuments of the last two centuries. At the same time, we are forced to confront the unsettling utopian/dystopian feeling of seeing the ravaging effects of the passage of time on our once futuristic and optimistic endeavors.
Editors’ Note: Jade Doskow’s project “Lost Utopias” is in the process of becoming a book. Help make it a reality by supporting (or even sharing) her Kickstarter campaign!