2005 photo essays
Week eightteen (July 24, 2005)
When the future was still the future: Osaka Expo 1970
Let's have a little time slip and go back to the year 1970, the year the first ever World Exposition was held in Japan. Nineteen hundred seventy - I wasn't even born back then, so it might not be a bad idea to recapitulate a few of the noteworthy events: the Vietnam War was still in full swing with protests around the world increasing and the US engagement slowly decreasing, Apollo 13 had its disasterful return trip to the moon, the Beatles were officially disbanded, German chancellor Willy Brandt spectacularly apologized for German war crimes by going down on his knees during a visit to the Polish capital Warsaw; Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died.
Back then, the terms "future" and "futuristic" still had a meaning - it was the "space age" and the era of rivalry between the world's superpowers of the US and the USSR, competing in all disciplines: military, space exploration, portraying of the own lifestyle, and so on. In this era of the (heating) Cold War between America and the Soviet Union, the recently economically uprising country of Japan held its first Universal Exposition (and the first-ever World Exposition on Asian soil).
One note: If you are interested in a comprehensive overview over the 1970 Expo pavilions and various other facts about the exposition, I very much recommend this excellent Singaporean site which has more stuff on it than I could ever induldge in (and also great images). Another site with all kinds of facts and photographs is the Earthstation 9 site which is also recommended. If you prefer a printed manual, Minami Nakawada's 2005 "EXPO '70" (published by Diamond Co., Tokyo - available only in Japan ) is an excellent photo collection and good information source.
· The first World Exposition on Asian soil
Even though Japan had attempted to host a World Exposition at previous occassions in 1912 and 1940 respectively, both of these had to be cancelled - the former due to the death of Emperor Meiji, the latter due to the outbreak of the Second World War. After the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, which were considered a major success on all levels, it was decided that Japan would host its first World Exposition in Senri in Osaka in 1970. The Osaka Expo was held for a total of 183 days from March 15 to September 13, 1970 and attracted more than 64 million visitors, over 97% of them Japanese.
The theme of the '70 Expo, "Progress and Harmony for Mankind", was a critical approach to the consequences of the ideology of civilizational and technological progress. The negative impact of industrialization and unguided scientific progress, taking the Second World War as an example of the destructive use of scientific know-how, was especially stressed. The aim of the exposition was to showcase possible uses of modern developments to create a foundation for high quality of life and peace throughout the world, rather than increasing the economic, political and military influence of individual countries.
It has to be considered that during this time, since the terrible experience of the war and the subsequent sufferings, Japan as a country and the Japanese people for the first time realized that they were getting somewhere once again - even overtaking the Western countries in terms of economic growth and innovational product output. Japan had had a bad reputation for copying Western products, refining them and selling them a lot cheaper due to the skillful Japanese workforce and low wages. However, since about the 1960s, own research on part of the Japanese companies and successful miniaturizing of electronic products slowly helped to build a reputation on their own - Japanese products being convenient, reliable and cheap.
In 1970, this development was starting to catch wind, and at the Osaka Expo, a special emphasis was put on cutting-edge electronics and computer-based technology which the up-and-coming Japan at the time was proud to present: for example, the Lost and Found Centers used "TV-telephones", enabling you to browse lost articles held at the center from a faraway location. Parking lots were set up with underground loop coils to detect traffic and help guide motorists to available parking lots. The so-called "people movers" (escalators and moving sidewalk were covered and air-conditioned). Computers were not only used in informational systems, but also in lighting, human traffic, and the water and sewage systems.
The response to the World Exposition in Osaka was overwhelming: the number of visitors exceeded an incredible 64 million, the most ever recorded at a World Exposition. When considering the scale of the exposition, one needs to take into consideration that the visitor numbers average was around 350.000 per day - more than four times the number estimated for the 2005 Expo (81.000 visitors per day).
The Expo site at Senri was connected to the city of Osaka by a 4-car monorail built by Hitachi-Alweg (check out the photos - it's not surprising that the Linimo looks quite similar to that monorail). One eyecatcher was located directly at the entry: the eccentric 70m Sun Tower (short description in English here), designed and constructed by the famous Taro Okamoto (1911-1996). The Sun Tower consists of three faces: the "Black Sun", the "Golden Sun" and a unnamed larger image facing the main Gate. The Sun Tower, among with a few other buildings - not most pavilions and the recently demolished Expo Tower, though - remains to this day in the commemorative park Expoland (a few more photos from Expoland).
· Major attractions: the corporate pavilions
In contrast to the Aichi Expo, the organization committee of the 70 Expo gave no restrictions regarding the construction of the individual pavilions. On the contrary, they asked designers and architects to construct "individualistic, expressionistic and colorful as possible". This became especially obvious with the hugely popular Japanese corporate pavilions which did not spare money nor effort to deliver impressive representations with their respective pavilions.
Some of the companies chose rather funny themes for their pavilions: Suntory, a whiskey producing company chose the theme "Water of Life", while the Japan Gas Association had the theme "World of Laughter". I mean, are you serious guys? Anyway, some other corporate giants represented at the exposition were Ricoh, Mitsubishi, Fuji, the Mitsui Group, Toshiba and Japan Telecommunications. It's not surprising that the expectations towards the corporate pavilions at the 2005 Expo were rather high when one takes a look their precedessors' representations.
· The country presentations
The country pavilions did not lose to the corporate ones in terms of creativity, though: All kinds of designs, ranging from traditional castle or temple designs to highly futuristic, weirdly shaped buildings could be found at the Osaka Expo.
In spite of the original intention of the exposition, the two superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union used the Expo as a stage to showcase their power and way of living. Whereas America's theme was "Images of America", the Soviet Union stressed the "Harmonious Development of the Individual under Socialism".
The contest between the two superpowers, fueled by the ongoing "Cold War", was also obvious by the very setup of the respective pavilions, which received the largest and most prominent locations on site. Take a look at the site aerial view - the tall red spire (measuring 110m) in the upper middle was Russian pavilion, whereas the American one (the white oval dome-like building in the lower middle) was located opposite. Both buildings excelled all other representations by their magnificence, thereby demonstrating the country's power. 1970 was the year after the first successful landing on the moon - this endeavour and the "race to the stars" between the US and the USSR had dominated the latter half of the 60ies. Therefore, both countries' representations heavily emphasized their technological advance in aerospace technology.
· Spectacular and playful seventies' design
The Osaka Expo was the peak in a tendency that could be observed since the 1930s - instead of focusing on country-specific and fact-based expositions, many countries chose rather abstract themes which aimed on establishing a "corporate image" through artistic means and "infotainment" presentations. In many cases, the connection between the representation and the respective country was rather far-fetched and transmitted through sound shows or movies, a rather new approach (for more information, I recommend this very interesting essay by Paul Sigel - in German only).
An interesting example of this is the continous half-year engagement of German sound artist Karlheinz Stockhausen which made up the German representation "Gardens of Music" at the Osaka Expo. In a spherical auditorium, equipped with over 50 Siemens speakers in concentric rings and illuminated by a starspace created by light artist Otto Pien, twenty instrumentalists and singers performed and recited his works, while Stockhausen manipulated and mixed the sound on his so-called "sound mill". This took place for five and a half hours daily for 183 days, reaching an audience of over a million listeners (if you are interested in Stockhausen's biography, read his official web page or this biography).
Another example that demonstrates the spirit of that era was the the fashion show designed for the Expo by designer Rudi Gernreich. He realised his vision of the so-called "unisex fashion", wearable by either man or woman, by using completely bald-shaved models of both sexes and dressing them in identical clothing - a rather radical approach which seems to have raised massive criticism by feminism activists at the time (an overview of Gernreich's work can be found here).
· The way the 1970 Expo represents its time
Personally, I am a big fan of the "space age" design of the late sixties / early seventies. Stanley Kubrick's visionary movies "2001" and "Clockwork Orange" and the designs and drawings of Syd Mead are my prime idols of this era. Also, in terms of graphic and typographic design, the seventies had a very distinct theme - straight and functional forms, strong colors, minimalistic composition. You can see a few examples of this on this web page which features pavilion brochures and other material from the 1970 Expo. This got me thinking that maybe I should start collecting pavilion pamphlets here and scan them, because in a few decades they might be very insightful about the contemporary design of now, i.e. noughties design. Update: I did end up scanning the covers of all pamphlets that I could get my hands on.
I find myself pretty fascinated about what was going on back then - in a few years, will people look back at the Aichi Expo and feel the same way? Whether or not that is the case, our 2005 Expo will still give people an image about the issues various governments and people had on their minds in the early 2000s - just as we can use the 1970 Expo as a mirror reflecting our view on the past.
· Reference: Some images were taken from Minami Nakawada's 2005 "EXPO '70" photo collection (Diamond Co., Tokyo)
· Next week: The popularity of the German Expo representation