History /

What is a Universal Exposition?

Modern usage of the word expo generally refers to those expositions organised and recognised by the Bureau International del Expositions (the international expo office based in Paris) that are hosted by a single country, but with participants from many nations.
The first ever Universal Exposition was back in 1851 in London, when a Crystal Palace was erected in Hyde Park, although the actual event is best known simply as the Great Exhibition.
Such international expos are characterised by only a part of the structures being dismantled after the event, with many complexes being converted and reused.
In some cases, the expo installations have become local or even national symbols, such as the Eiffel Tower (Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889), the Arts and Industries Building at the Smithsonian Institution (Centennial Exposition of 1876), the Genoa Aquarium (Expo 1992) and many more.

Milan International Exposition in 1906

In the early 20th century, the idea took hold in Milan to organise a world expo focusing on water transport. However, as the Simplon Tunnel through the Alps was nearing completion, this idea mutated so the focus for the expo was more generally on transport in all its forms, with truly global participation.

The event had originally been planned for 1905, but delays in building the tunnel led to it starting in 1906. A committee of leading citizens identified the green area behind the Sforza castle as the ideal spot for such a large event - even today this space is named Sempione Park after the tunnel, known as Traforo del Sempione in Italian - and the necessary funds were raised from the public.

The International Exposition was opened on 28 May 1906. No more than 40 nations officially took part, with 225 buildings designed by the leading architects of the day for the space where Sempione Park now stands and where Piazza d'Armi once stood (it became the main trade fair in Milan in 1923). These two sites were connected by an ultramodern raised railway. In April of that year, the Milan Civic Aquarium opened and remains one of the city's best examples of the local art nouveau style.

Around 35,000 exhibitors came from across the globe and the total surface area for the expo site was a million square metres. About 5.5 million visitors came to the event. It was an epoch defining event that helped boost Italian potential and made Milan a leading international player.

The raised electric railway
2 May. Inauguration of the Aerostat Park Vehicles ready to chase the balloons
Captain Frassinetti's
balloon ready for lift off
Exhibition of the Royal Italian Marines
Sampierdarena Pavilion
Light from the lighthouse and the lit up Marine Pavilion
2 May. Inauguration of the Aerostat Park - Vehicles ready to chase the balloons
Final few days of work on Piazza d'Armi

Civica Raccolte Stampe Archivio Bertarelli, Milano Civico Archivio Fotografico Biblioteca del progetto − La Triennale di Milano, ISAL Istituto per la Storia dell’Arte Lombarda, Volume “Cronaca illustrata dell’esposizione”, Milano, Fratelli Treves Editori (1906)

Shanghai World Expo 2010

In the wake of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the World Expo in Shanghai ran from 1 May to 31 October 2010 and gave China an ideal platform for showcasing its leading international role. The Shanghai World Expo site covered 5.28 km2 of urban landscape, with investment of roughly US$ 40 million. Officially, there were 246 participants, including 192 of the 193 members of the
United Nations. By the end, 73 million visitors had been to this expo, which hosted 22,900 organised events and required about 80,000 volunteers working across the site. The theme was “Better City Better Life” and it was divided into five areas tied to issues of urbanisation:
The Shanghai expo also included some theme pavilions focusing on environmental, technological, infrastructural and social aspects as well as 16 company pavilions for areas like communication and information, oil, shipping, aviation, automobiles and space.
The Chinese organisers introduced two highly notable innovations: the first virtual expo using the "Expo On Line" platform; and extending participation to 57 cities that displayed their best projects in the specifically created Urban Best Practice Area (UBPA). Bologna and Venice where there from Italy, with the former highlighting its multicultural dimension and the latter focusing on what it had done to reuse abandoned industrial areas.
The Italian Ministry of the Environment fitted out a specific pavilion about sustainable cities and also played an advisory role for the Chinese government in its preparations for the Expo.

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Italy officially announced its participation in the Shanghai World Expo 2010 with a letter addressed to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao from Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi dated 30 June 2006.
The Shanghai Expo was a highly competitive setting, but this provided an opportunity for Italy to foreground its national manufacturing excellence. It was in this vein that the General Commissariat focused Italian involvement on three fundamental needs: restoring the superb image of Italy and Made in Italy; boosting bilateral relations with China; and developing a model for marketing Italian interests at global events built on close cooperation between the public and private sectors.
In practical terms, this translated into the Italian programme for Shanghai interpreting the "Better City Better Life" theme through the lens of "The City of Man", focusing on the role of the individual in the process of urban development.
Thus, the General Commissariat chose to concentrate Italian participation in the expo on those excellences that can truly help improve the urban lives of future generations: architecture, innovative and eco-sustainable construction, the optimal use of the historical and artistic heritage, environmental resources, aspects that improve the private sphere (artisanship, fashion, food and wine, design), mobility, accessibility, healthcare and wellbeing.
Italy promoted a concept of "great" cities that are, first and foremost, sustainable and offer optimal conditions for development, meet the needs of the residents and foreground potential. Such cities are built around and for the people; they are efficient, stimulating and beautiful places in which people can live happily.
For the Expo, the Italian contribution sought to underscore the know-how and skills in such a manner that they appealed to all the different types of visitors (general public, institutional representatives, business people and entrepreneurs, the media and researchers). This required a multi-faceted approach to how these were displayed:

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The Pavilion obviously had an area focusing on Expo 2015, but it also hosted events promoted jointly with the Italian Trade Agency, and the Ministries of Public Administration and Innovation, the Environment, Cultural Assets, Productive Activities, and Tourism. In addition, 11 regions and 2 cities staged events and organised exhibitions on a rotating basis in the pavilion.
Confindustria - the leading Italian association representing manufacturing and service companies - also played a central role, helping to identify key sectors, often working with trade associations to do this. Over 1,500 companies were present in some form in the Italian Pavilion, promoting different activities but all seeking increased global exposure.
The rich calendar of cultural shows and events (including opera, theatre, contemporary art and folklore) provided a comprehensive view of Italy, highlighting the country's greatest strengths, especially some of the less well-known aspects, and thus correcting the perception of Italy in China and the world.
Italy's participation can be summed up with the following figures:

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