The evolution of World Expo design

Alex Bigman

This summer, a whole lot of people will descend upon Milan for the 2015 World Expo. If you have been any where near Italy this year, the news will come as no surprise: Andrea Puppa’s branding for the Expo has colored much of the peninsula in magenta, yellow and cyan. If you have not, then you may be asking: what the heck is a World Expo?



The institutional logo for Milan Expo 2015, designed by Andrea Puppa

Here it is in a nutshell. Beginning in the mid-19th century, cities began hosting “World’s Fairs,” where representatives of various countries would gather to show off the latest products of industrial technology. Beginning in 1935, an official organizer, the Bureau International Des Expositions (BIE), took the helm. Since then, there have been 12 official world expos (including Milan), and many more unofficial ones.

Since the cold war ended, their themes, while still tech-oriented, have become less space-racey and more conscientious of global challenges. (Milan’s is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Hence the creepy mascot for the Expo, Foody, pictured below). The ostensible point is to bring world cultural leaders together to exchange ideas, share and exhibit knowledge with a broad public.


Foody, the mascot for the Expo

But there’s another clear motivation behind the Expo, and that is to boast—as true in 1851 as it is now. In keeping with tradition, the wealthiest countries build architecturally impressive “pavilions” to house exhibition spaces and activities related to the theme. Check out a rendering of the China pavilion, designed by Yichen Lu, below.


The China pavilion, designed by Yichen Lu

It is the host city, however, that gets the greatest glory—or hopes to. Indeed, the event, which is supposed to occur every five years, is now seen as an opportunity for the host city to “brand” or “rebrand” itself as a world culture capital. This being the case, we thought it would be amusing to take a look back at the branding for the last ten World Expos, including both graphics and architecture.

2010: Shanghai


The logo for Shanghai Expo 2010


The China pavilion

2000: Hanover


A poster for the Hannover Expo 2000

German electronica pioneers, Kraftwerk, composed a “jingle” for the Expo

1992: Seville


A monorail system was one of the most emblematic components of Expo Seville 1992


Now the Expo grounds, including the monorail cars, languish as a ruin

1970: Osaka

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 11.13.53 PM

The Swiss pavilion


The USSR pavilion

1967: Montreal


A poster for Montreal Expo 1967. Note the letter “M” hidden in the snowflake-like logo’s eight parts.

1962: Seattle


Branding for Seattle Expo 1962, otherwise known as the Century 21 Exposition


The Space Needle, which today remains Seattle’s most iconic landmark, was constructed for the 1962 Expo

1958: Brussels


A poster for Brussels Expo 1958


The Atomium, a giant model of an iron crystal, was one of the attractions at the Expo

1949: Port-au-Prince


A poster for the Port-au-Prince Expo 1949

1939: New York


A poster for the New York Expo 1939, designed in the Art Deco style

What do you think are the most iconic designs to come out of a World Expo? Share in the comments!

The author

Alex Bigman
Alex Bigman

Alex contributes from New York City on topics ranging from branding and typography to the history of design.

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