Bartlett BSc Architecture Unit 4 2011-12

Ana Monrabal Cook and Luke Pearson


In 2020 Silicon Valley hopes to hold an International Exposition, which will be the third such event in the San Francisco area’s lifetime. The Exposition as an architectural construction exists in a dichotomy, at once sprawling, colourful, wilfully silly, yet carefully promoting the interests and investments of nation states and multinational corporations.

Architects have an inextricable link to those who wield power in society. Now more than ever, the production of visualisations, masterplans, sketches and films are tightly controlled to appeal to the senses of those who hold political or financial capital. It is through physical manifestations of these desires that the architects of the many follies and pavilions of International Expos have played with their audience’s visual, consumerist and symbolic appetites.

The Expo provides a forum for nations to export themselves and their culture. Constructs of the power, attitude and philosophies of nations are sent across the globe for the consumption of other cultures. Crystal Palace, the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Barcelona Pavilion and many more, have become architectures far beyond the Expo itself, becoming cultural icons that define the city they reside in.

San Francisco as a city embodies the counter-culture of the United States, yet this “free thinking” has led to it becoming the world’s capital of the digital industries, where new models of control weave their way into our lives at an ever-increasing pace. With this comes unlimited access to information, the new commodity, our global gateway. But just as World’s Fairs paint a controlled picture of international culture – the olympic games of the economy, science and industry – so our remote personal perception of the world is affected by information brokering.

Winning the bid to host an International Expo involves a highly competitive selection process. An idealised version of the city is exported to the selection panel far in advance of the public event. The perceived benefits for a city and immediate international attention can act as catayst for growth or as a distraction from societies real problems. Is it all bread and circus?

We ask you to consider an Architectural Exposé as a counterpoint to the tightly controlled dissemination of cultural ideas in the Exposition. Exposé implies the reveal of something secret, (un)desirable, a hard truth or grotty titillation. It is the opposite to the masquerade of the World’s Fair.

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