From jaw-dropping design to wow-inducing technological wizardry, the 2012 World’s Expo in Yeosu, Korea, is brimming with inspiration for exhibit and event professionals. EXHIBITOR Magazine’s Expo 2012 microsite features everything from Expo-related news and FAQs to historic World’s Expo highlights and video footage direct from Yeosu. This site also plays host to EXHIBITOR Magazine’s Expo 2012 Awards, honoring the best the world (well, the World’s Expo, at least) has to offer.
Expo FAQ
Volume Two: Pavilions, and Mascots, and Themes — Oh My!

The questions keep rolling in about Expo 2012. (There are no BAD questions, but some are definitely better — and more appropriate — than others.) Below, we’ve answered another batch of reader-submitted questions. Can’t find the info you’re looking for? Keep sending your pressing Expo 2012 questions to and check back frequently as we’ll continue posting answers to your inquiries throughout the duration of Expo 2012.

Q. Who built the pavilions for Expo 2012?

A. In world expos, such as Expo 2010 in Shanghai, the participating countries and other organizations must underwrite and construct their own pavilions. In international/specialized expos, such as the one at Yeosu, there are two approaches. In the first, the show organizer builds the pavilions, then makes areas within them available to participants free of rent or any other charges. However, those countries must finance whatever they decide to build inside said pavilions.

For example, in Yeosu, South Korea footed the bill for the entire 62-acre complex including the main Theme Pavilion, the Marine Robot Pavilion, and the International Pavilion, in which 57 of the 104 participating countries will exhibit, either individually or jointly. Resembling a flowing ocean dotted with white caps from above, the massive 771,772-square-foot edifice will accommodate up to 23,900 visitors at a time.

The South Korean government also financed construction of the 21,527-square-foot International Organizations Pavilion, in which 10 international organizations, ranging from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to the World Food Programme, which will highlight emerging innovations for sustaining and protecting the world’s oceans.

Exhibitors taking the second approach can opt to pay for and build their own freestanding pavilions. Forty-seven countries scheduled to appear at Expo 2012 chose this route, a group that includes the United States, Israel, Russia, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Oman, and Thailand.

Q. What happens to the pavilions after Expo 2012 is over?

A. Once the fair closes its doors on August 12 of this year, the same destiny lies in store for most of the pavilions there that awaited buildings from all other world expos and fairs: razing or removal. For most of the world’s fairs’ 161-year history, the buildings they housed were designed to be as ephemeral as they were elegant.

Almost all of the structures at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, for example, were deliberately engineered to last a maximum of a year or two, despite facades that resembled the centuries-enduing marble of the Parthenon or the age-defying limestone of the pyramids. In reality, the exterior materials were simply a mixture of plaster of Paris and hemp fibers called “staff,” spread over a wood frame. Similarly, buildings at the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago crafted an illusion of permanence with 1/2-inch-thick wallboard set over a steel framework.

While show organizers exhibited an early form of planned obsolescence with these edifices, a handful of buildings from world expos avoided the scrap heap, often because of their overwhelming popularity and strategic re-purposing. Here are a few examples:

 The main building at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia is now the Please Touch Museum.
 The Eiffel Tower, constructed for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, was originally slated to be torn down after 20 years. Now 121 years old, it has received more than 250 million visitors.
 The Palace of Fine Arts, erected for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, later became the Museum of Science and Industry.
 The Atomium, a model of an iron crystal atom magnified 165 billion times, was fabricated for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. It is still standing as a tourist attraction today, and underwent renovation in 2004.
  The Space Needle, raised as the focal point of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, is a permanent tourist attraction with an observation deck and a restaurant that stands 500 feet off the ground.
  The Unisphere, a stainless-steel model of the Earth fashioned for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, was granted official landmark status by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1995.
  The United States pavilion at Expo ‘67 in Montreal, a 250-foot-diameter geodesic dome, was later transformed into a museum focusing on environmental issues.

Like all other fairs, most of Expo 2012’s pavilions will have a rendezvous with a wrecking ball after the exposition closes. One reason is because the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), which governs world’s fairs, stipulates all foreign pavilions must generally be torn down when an expo ends. Another reason, however, is that the expo site itself is valuable industrial real estate in a development-hungry economy. In Yeosu, the site is considered to be part of a burgeoning tourist and recreation area whose real estate will be a prime location for hotels, restaurants, and other retail spaces.

The one part slated to survive the post-Expo demolition derby is the Sky Tower. The fair’s tallest structure at 240 feet, the Sky Tower consists of two linked silos once used for cement storage, then abandoned years ago. In conjunction with Expo 2012, one silo was transformed into a desalination facility, while its twin was remade into a multimedia exhibition hall.

The desalination plant will admit attendees, who can learn more about the crucial technology used in the 14,500 desalination plants worldwide, then try a taste of desalinated seawater that was processed while they watched. The sister silo a few feet away has been turned into a theater whose walls will display bucolic scenes of the southern coast around Yeosu.

Attached to the Sky Tower’s exterior is a pipe organ in the shape of a harp that plays in 5-minute bursts 20 times per day. Listed by Guinness World Records Ltd.’s Book of World Records as the world’s loudest, the pipe organ is capable of achieving 139 decibels (dB), surpassing the typical 120 dB of a thunder clap and nearly equaling the usual 140 dB of a jet engine. Played by two female musicians, the organ’s daily mix incudes opening and closing music, as well as the national anthems of participating countries, all of which can be heard up to 3.5 miles away.

Q. What is the official theme of Expo 2012? Why was it selected?

A. The theme for Expo 2012 is “The Living Ocean and Coast: Diversity of Resources and Sustainable Activities.” The motto refers to the manifold challenges of living in a time when the supply of drinkable water may go from tenuous to disastrous. According to the Washington, DC-headquartered World Bank, 80 percent of all countries currently suffer water shortages, while a total of 40 percent of the world’s population — a number exceeding 2 billion people — have limited or nonexistent access to clean water. Moreover, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu, Nepal, reports that perhaps 3,200 Himalayan glaciers that source Asia’s nine biggest rivers — including the Ganges, Indus, Yangtze, Mekong, and Yellow — could literally melt away by 2035, due to measurable global warming. Nearly 1.3 billion people from Pakistan to Myanmar depend on these rivers for liquid sustenance.

Other countries’ supply is menaced for reasons that lie more with threatening enemies than threatening environments. Nations such as Cambodia, Syria, Bulgaria, the Congo, Gambia, and the Sudan receive 75 percent or more of their fresh water from rivers whose sources lie within the control of belligerent neighbors. Expo 2012’s mission, in part, will be to explore technological innovations that can alleviate the expected shortages, but it will also attempt to shift attendees’ perspective about water problems from a local mindset to a global one. The message will be brief but hopefully memorable: What affects someone in Nepal also impacts someone in Nebraska.

Expo 2012 continues the ecological motif that first appeared at Expo ‘74, in Spokane, WA. Its “Celebrating our Fresh, New Environment” theme extended an emerging Green consciousness, evidenced by the first nationwide Earth Day celebration, the passage of the Clean Air Act, as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, all just four years before in 1970. Subsequent expos, such as Expo ‘75 in Okinawa, Japan, offered “The Sea We Would Like to See,” and was situated mostly on a floating ocean platform called the Aquapolis. Similarly, “Ships and the Sea” was the theme of Expo ‘92 in Genoa, Italy, while “The Oceans, A Heritage for the Future” served as the rhetorical banner for Expo ‘98 in Lisbon, Portugal. The most recent international/specialized fair, Expo 2008 in Zaragoza, Spain, relied on “Water and Sustainable Development” as the fair’s unifying tagline.

Typically, world expos choose a theme that addresses the anxieties of the era and allays them through the panacea of technology and science. With the dark chill of World War II descending from Europe, the 1939 New York World’s Fair invoked a bright future after the storm, with the slogan “Building the World of Tomorrow.” The pain of the Cold War and Vietnam could be balmed, if not healed, with the sentiment behind the 1964 New York World’s Fair, “Peace Through Understanding.” In Montreal, Expo ‘67 took its theme, “Man and His World,” from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s hopeful 1939 book “Wind, Sand and Stars.” The rhetorical rallying cry for Expo ‘70 in Osaka, Japan, was “Progress and Harmony for Mankind.”

Since then, the belief in technology, progress, and the up-with-people optimism of world’s fairs suffered mortal blows from the technological terrors of the space shuttle Challenger, the Chernobyl calamity, the Y2K panic, anthropogenic global warming, and more. Now that technology is seen as a neutral tool, instead of a magic wand, world’s fairs have sanded down their themes. Thus, you now see blanded slogans such as that of Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany, “Humankind, Nature, Technology,” and that of Expo 2005 in Aichi Prefecture in Japan, “Nature’s Wisdom.” Expo 2010 in Shanghai chose the vanilla “Better City, Better Life ” to symbolizes exhibitors’ efforts to show how we can better blend diverse cultures, generate economic prosperity, and inspire innovations of science and technology in the city. The next world’s fair after Yeosu, Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy, will uphold the tame tradition with the motto, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.”

Q. What is the official mascot of Expo 2012? How was it selected?

A. Resembling a cross between a Troll doll and a Smurf sperm, the mascots for Expo 2012 are ocean-hued Yeony and flame-colored Suny.

The first three letters of Yeony’s name and the first two of Suny’s moniker combine to form “Yeosu,” the name of expo’s host city, which translates to “beautiful water.” While Yeony is a personification of a water droplet, Suny is anthropomorphized plankton, the drifting organisms that provide sustenance to the aquatic food chain. The tentacles streaming off their respective bulbous heads represent communication nodes, while the white patches on their face are emblematic of purity. The two are meant to graphically symbolize the expo’s theme of “The Living Ocean and Coast: Diversity of Resources and Sustainable Activities.”

Yeony and Suny are only the latest in a long line of fair mascots, which international expositions have officially included since the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans.

The duo’s Pillsbury Doughboy-like anatomy is the current norm for these symbolic figures, a mix of the oversized heads, disproportionate eyes, and elongated mouths. This misshapen look was inspired by Asian anime and manga, which itself drew on the hyperbolized features of American pop-culture icons such as Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop, and Disney’s Bambi. Almost 30 years ago, the mascots at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, TN, looked like hillbillified knockoffs of the animatronic band at Chuck E. Cheese, while the 1984 New Orleans expo represented itself with a pelican sporting a turquoise top hat. But these animals with human attributes soon gave way to pudgy blobs of often indistinct sexuality.

At Expo ‘86 in Vancouver, Canada, for example, the fair trotted out Expo Ernie, a robot equipped with a marshmallow-like body topped by a bowling ball-shaped head. Similarly, Twipsy, the mascot for Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany, was a genderless creature known for its oversized mouth, exaggerated proboscis, a human hand for its right arm, and a plant for its left arm. The Shanghai expo in 2010 offered Haibao. The name itself translated as “the treasure of the seas,” which was reflected in its blue hue, suggesting the coastal waters bordering Shanghai. According to the official Expo 2010 site, Haibao’s “round body represents a well-off life, which is also lovely and cute.” Like the others mentioned above, Haibao was a Gumby-shaped creation of prepubescent demeanor and nebulous gender.
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