World’s Fair expositions have been showcasing the individual accomplishments of nations across the globe since 1851. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the World’s Fair was an important cultural event and a great honor for the city that hosted it. There have been over 100 expos in more than 20 countries, and although their popularity is not what it once was, still happen once every two to three years.
Typically, pavilions hosting exhibitions and various countries at World’s Fairs were made to be collapsible, and intended to be taken down at the end of the fair. Some structures, though, survived and were converted or eventually established as iconic national landmarks. You might even recognize some of these celebrated monuments.
10 Eiffel Tower
The most famous monument left over from a World’s Fair is undoubtedly Paris’ Eiffel Tower. One of the most visited landmarks in the world, the Eiffel Tower is a national icon and is plastered on computer wallpapers and keychains all across the globe.
But the tower was built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris by engineer Gustave Eiffel. Eiffel’s company aspired to build the world’s tallest tower in celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution, and the Eiffel Tower did not disappoint. Today, the tower can be seen from all corners of Paris and remains an international symbol of the city.
9 Space Needle
When Seattle hosted the 1962 World’s Fair, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in the midst of a twenty-year-long rivalry to get to space: The Space Race. Naturally, the United States wanted to showcase its engineering might, prompting organizers of the World’s Fair to construct the 184-meter tall Space Needle.
Visitors will instantly recognize this staple of the Seattle skyline, with its narrow shaft and UFO-like saucer viewing platform. It drew over two million tourists to its debut and hasn’t lost its popularity yet.
8 China Pavilion
China's got some architectural marvels all across the nation (the Great Wall is only one of its many dynamic structures), so it’s no surprise that it produced the spectacular China Pavilion for Expo 2010 in Shanghai. Also known as the Oriental Crown, it was the largest structure ever unveiled at a World Expo.
The China Pavilion vaguely resembles traditional Chinese architecture, but it was designed with ancient Chinese crowns in mind—hence, the Oriental Crown. Its designers invested over $200 million in its construction, so it’s only fair that it remained a permanent fixture in Shanghai. It now houses the China Art Museum.
7 Palace of Fine Arts, Chicago
The Palace of Fine Arts has been a staple pavilion at World’s Fairs all over the U.S., and many have been given new functions to extend the life of the building. One very famous Palace of Fine Arts is in Chicago, though most visitors are unaware of its early beginnings.
The Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago in 1893 and went on to become one of the most well-known World’s Fairs in history. Its Fine Arts building is one of the Fair’s few remaining structures and is currently home to the Museum of Science and Industry in Jackson Park, along with some of Chicago’s other popular museums.
At first glance, Brussels’ cellular-shaped Atomium looks like a science-inspired monument, but as you get closer, you’ll realize that it’s actually a building, and its round pods are rooms. The Atomium was the brainchild of André Waterkeyn, intended to be the heart of the 1958 Expo 58. Each of the nine “atoms” was built to be a fully habitable apartment.
Unfortunately, the Atomium is not currently on the real estate market. Instead, its apartments host various exhibits and even a restaurant, where diners are treated to unparalleled views of Brussels.
5 Magic Fountain of Montjuic
Sure, one might visit Barcelona to see the spectacular work of Antoni Gaudí, whose colorful buildings give the city life, but those who are planning a trip to the heart of Catalonia should add the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc to their itinerary.
The fountain has been enchanting spectators with its water show since the 1929 International Exposition of Barcelona. Unlike most fountains, however, the Magic Fountain combines light and sound in its display, which were even parts of its original design. Its size alone is a marvel, but try and catch one of its themed shows.
4 Palace of Fine Arts, St. Louis
Like its sister building in Chicago, the Palace of Fine Arts in St. Louis was inspired by classical architecture and is a colossal monument in its area. Its design as directly inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla. It debuted not long after Chicago’s 1893 Fair, at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904.
It sits, an imposing yet strikingly elegant monument, atop a hill in Forest Park at the centre of St. Louis. Over the years, the building has had a few extensions made, but has consistently remained the seat of the St. Louis Art Museum almost since the close of the Fair (and the best part—admission is free!).
3 Habitat 67
No, this isn’t the world’s most epic cardboard box fort, it’s Habitat 67, an experimental housing complex in Montreal. Habitat 67 is one of only two remaining buildings from the 1967 Fair, the other being the Biosphere (also worth checking out if you’re looking for some unique Canadian architecture).
Habitat 67 is a model housing unit, appearing as a set of stacked box-shaped apartment units that started off as architect Moshe Safdie’s master’s thesis. Apartments in the co-op are still lived-in, but if you’re house shopping in Montreal, be warned these are some of the most expensive in the city.
New York City’s Unisphere is exactly what it looks like—a giant stainless steel model of the planet. It was commissioned for the 1964 World’s Fair and still stands in Flushing Meadows—Corona Park in Queens.
The futuristic monument was the centrepiece for the Fair, themed “Peace Through Understanding,” and what a magnificent way to celebrate our home planet at the start of the space age. It was designed to celebrate “Man’s Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe.” Though there are a few other surviving Fair buildings, the Unisphere is undoubtedly in the best condition.
1 Canada Place
Located on Vancouver’s renowned waterfront, Canada Place stands tall with its landmark sails. After the success of Expo 67 in Montreal, Canada was again selected to host Expo 86, this time in Vancouver, and again the Great White North did not disappoint. Its crown jewel was the five sailed Canada Place pavilion, which is no less regal today than it was 30 years ago.
The massive building now houses the Vancouver Convention Centre, the Vancouver World Trade Centre, a hotel, and more. Not only was it the most important feature of Expo 86, but it is still one of the most iconic buildings in Vancouver.