Nobody has ever done a compendium on the architectural vestiges of past World’s Fairs until Jade Doskow.
I don’t know if this prior statement in true or not, but it is still a fantastic topic. World’s Fairs were global icons of architectural, scientific, and technological achievements. The Crystal Palace, The Eiffel Tower, The Space Needle, The Barcelona Pavilion, and Habitat ‘67 are just the architectural achievements – I didn’t even mention the ice cream cone.
However, the internet has ruined the allure of the World’s Fair – where separate countries and cultures would gather and share ideas. Today, if somebody wants to introduce the ice cream cone to the world they wouldn’t need to hop a flight on the 1 year-old Wright Brothers’ airplane and buy a booth at the St. Louis World’s Fair – they would simply call 1-800 Invent Help or make a vlog on YouTube.
Jade Doskow has spent the past 8 years traveling the world to photograph the sites of former World’s Fairs, and she documented this journey in a new compendium from black dog publishing entitled Lost Utopias.
The cover image (and Plate 30) of Lost Utopias epitomizes the alluring yet unsustainable visions of utopia. The shell of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic white dome has subsequently been depicted in scientific lore as the visionary “bubble” city.1 Even today, technology mavens Google and Amazon are building their own self-described bubbled “utopias” – yet, are missing the obvious metaphor of the dot-com bubble bursting.
Buckminster Fuller’s original steel-framed dome was intended to be temporarily bolted together; however, it was (apparently) more expensive to bolt the structure together than to weld the connections2 – so the structure has become a permanent fixture looming over Parc Jean-Drapeau ever since. Then one day the Bubble City of Utopia burned, killing all future residents, and leaving the exposed metal latticework of this dystopian nightmare standing in stark contrast to the modern day vision of sustainable housing.
In the foreground sits a small single-wide with a solar paneled roof.
Upon seeing this cover image of “Lost Utopias”, my mother-in-law began reminiscing of the time when her parents took her to the World’s Fair in Montreal as a child. However, she didn’t mention the allure of Fuller’s geodesic dome in it’s grandeur, nor did she even hint at the innovative housing of Moshe Safdie’s famous modular Habitat ‘67 (Plates 5, 6). Hell, she didn’t even allude to witnessing Alexander Calder’s “L’homme” (The Man) sculpture (Plate 31). She just talked about how all the children would stay up, and the little royal children would pass notes to them beneath the door.
“I wonder what ever happened to those princes and princesses?” She asked. “They were the nicest kids, but you know what happened in that country don’t you?”
“No. What country?” I responded.
“Oh. The terrible travesties in that country, you know the one.”
I am not daft, but I still had no clue what country she was talking about, before she began yearning to have attended other World’s Fairs as a child.
“I still wish I would’ve gone to the Chicago World’s Fair. The White Tent City was a dream; albeit, auspiciously depicted in Erik Larsen’s non-fiction book Devil in the White City. But, I’d have to have been careful with a serial killer lurking outside the gates.”
At this point in time, I was a little confused if these were just childhood fancies, or if in fact my mother-in-law is a Timelord3 – since the Chicago World’s Fair was in 1893.
But that was the allure of World’s Fairs. They were not (originally) festivities to demonstrate new technology. World’s Fairs were grand festivities celebrating countries, cultures, and ideas – where children from separate backgrounds, continents, and economic settings could pass notes beneath doors. World’s Fairs promoted diversity and encouraged gathering, competition, and exploration. The World’s Fair was the modern day Olympics for the uncoordinated, the ungifted, and the overweight – an event for all Midwesterners.
World’s Fairs needed large spaces, and numerous buildings, to accommodate these cross-cultural social gatherings, but without forethought many of these spaces have diminished into alternative uses through necessity. In some instances nature has taken over these feral landscapes, but oftentimes we still live and attempt to incorporate these visions into our current constructs.
And that is what Jade Doskow has graciously captured in these images – the muddling of place. The greatest architects of their respective times would construct immense structures for a utopian vision of the future – without ever having a vision as to the future of these structures.
A few World’s Fairs were successfully constructed to endure as a lasting venue into the future. Paris’ Eiffel Tower is the most obvious example. However, instead of the typical view of the Eiffel Tower rising beyond the immensely manicured sprawling lawn – Jade Doskow captured the backside view (which I have never seen photographed). Where the tourism buses drop you off between two monumental buildings flanking the Eiffel Tower view.
Moshe Safdie’s Habit ’67 is another transcendental example of lasting architecture from past World’s Fairs – where his stacked cubes still inhabit residents. Habit ’67 was the pioneering example of pre-fabricated housing in North America. Remarkably, prefab manufacturing still has never garnered much consideration in the construction industry 50 years later! Ironically, Moshe Safdie also never transcended his initial seminal work either- unless by transcend you count his cruise ship placed upon three skyscrapers in Singapore.
What I love most about the photographs in Lost Utopias are when Jade Doskow captures the daily life in relation to these historic remnants. Enchanting details emerge the longer you study each photograph in this book. I even evolved to love her large-format 4×5-inch film camera that produces colored pictures that are reminiscent of images that would have been captured during the early World’s Fairs. Furthermore, the overly-long exposures often leave blurred profiles of people. I wonder, are these ghosted figures current day patrons? Or perhaps these ghosted images are Timelords traveling to prior World’s Fairs.
My favorite, elusively lasting, image is the final photograph in the book – the remains of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The deceptive blue and yellow image is alluring – yet hard to grasp. An ominous angular shadow casts across the yellow sand dunes – leading one to ponder if a White Tent is casting an eternal shadow, or if the Chicago World’s Fair was in fact just a Timelord’s dream.
I received this book free. Yes, I know. For some reason people send me free books without any obligation for a review in return. However, I only accept books I actually want to read and review.
If you would like me to review your “Architectural” related books, please see my review policy.
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1 Or it’s (seemingly) identical twin was named Epcot.
2 If this is true, then why do my structural engineers insist welded moment-frame connections are vastly more costly?
3 I still would put it within the realm of possibility.
Jade Doskow is also currently working with filmmaker Philip Shane on a documentary about her World’s Fair Project.
Or if you find yourself in Hudson, NY from now until March 10, 2017 – be sure to see her full exhibit at Walnut Hill Fine Arts.
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