Explicating Failure: Expo 2000
Why do we keep making the same mistakes?
Olympics, World Expositions, and other mega events cost billions of dollars, yet their life spans are drastically short. Ranging from 14 days to 6 months, these massively expensive and publicized events find themselves the center of the world’s attention for a moment. Yet, what happens when the crowds leave and the cameras are turned off? A startling high percentage of these event sites lay in waste within a year of their use. After a decade many are completely abandoned and have had no long-term impact on the communities they were intended to rejuvenate. In spite of these results, mega events continue to be held, in even higher numbers than in the past. This thesis examines the remains of a specific site, the Expo 2000, in Hannover, Germany. The project works to understand and respond to the specific failures that have occurred here over the last 10 years.
Hannover is not alone in its failure. Historical events as well as more recent precedents reveal a startling trend in mega events. Though very popular during their intended spectacle, the question of what to do with these sites afterward has proved difficult to answer. Osaka, host of the World Expo in 1970, as well as the most visited expo until Shanghai in 2010, decided upon the immediate solution of demolishing the expo entirely. Many other host cities have come to this same conclusion, but it is often years after the main event has taken place. In that time, sometimes spanning decades, a state of abandonment and degradation develops. At the outset, nearly every event promises long term economic sustenance and vitality to their host cities. These words are typically as empty as the stadiums themselves after the events. This waste has become far more disturbing in recent years as these event sites become ever more expensive, costing billions of dollars. Any government investing such large amounts of capital should expect to see some long term return, but they are often left with huge debt instead. Expositions typically last 6 months, while Olympics last a mere 2 weeks. This time frame does not equal the high cost and permanence of the physical presence created by the architecture of these mega events. Though not a failure in every sense, there are definite economic, social, and environmental failures present. What can be done to prevent the same mistakes from being made again and again? What is to be done with these already abandoned sites? This thesis hopes to answer the first question by tackling the second. In order to consider a response to these issues, the history of the expo must be understood.
The apostasy concerning the Expo 2000 can be traced back to 1988. Birgit Breuel was the main proponent in obtaining the expo for Hannover. The impetus behind the bid was the promised benefit for all of Northern Germany, particularly the infrastructure of Lower Saxony and Hannover.3 Paired with a possible German Olympic Games, there was hope this event would be successful in re-branding the newly unified Germany.4 The original expectation for the Expo 2000 was 18 million visitors, an ultimately highly accurate estimate. This number was, however, far below typical World Exposition attendance. Since WWII, every World Exposition Class expo had garnered at least 40 million guests. With the bid not yet awarded, the estimate and subsequent expectation was altered through some questionable math to a new number of 40 million visitors. A fervent campaign on the theme of “Humankind-Nature-Technology” was also begun. This expo was sold as a forum in which to address the major issues of the world as a community. With these new numbers and strong theme, Hannover was awarded the Expo in 1990.
From the outset of planning the Expo, there were several warning signs that the expo might not be all it promised. Though officially awarded the expo, only 51% of the population of Hannover supported the event. The ten member planning organization reflected the lack of concern for the city with only one member representing the interests of Hannover.5 The next 10 years and billions of dollars were devoted to the planning and building of the expo. In the end it became the largest physically built area to hold an expo as well as one of the costliest. Of the estimated total 3.5 billion DM cost, 2.5 billion were spent on infrastructure for Lower Saxony. The expansion of the autobahn A2 and A7 to six lanes was one major project to prepare for the increase in vehicular traffic. There was also a line extension of the light rail system added to the Expo area as well as a modernizing of Hannover’s public transport system. A third major project was the addition of a third terminal to Hannover’s International airport. Many of these renovations were done to also handle the estimated future needs for Hannover by 2010. Though these costs added to the overall deficit of the expo, their focus was on future needs.
Ultimately, the Expo 2000 is considered to be one of the greatest failures in the history of World Expositions. The original estimate of 18 million visitors was incredibly accurate as the actual number came to 18.1 million. However, because the Expo had been planned for the altered estimate of 40 million guests, planning and spending were far off mark. The expected revenue from tickets was 1.6 billion DM, where as the actual amount was only 575 million. The hoped for sponsorship for the expo was 1.6 billion DM, but only 538 million came through. The total cost of the expo grew far beyond the predicted amount. 2.89 billion DM was the expected cost, but final figures totaled 3.3 billion DM. The original plan was for the majority of the Expo to be funded through private investment, but with the increase in cost and decrease in funds raised, the local, state, and federal government paid for nearly 80% of the expo. In the end, the public was forced to pay for an event only a few people actually wanted.
In this process, the entire country was hijacked by the Expo 2000. Instead of questioning this process, Architecture became a willing participant. Appropriate consideration for life past the expo was not made. Overall, there was a disregard for the temporary nature of the event, except for perhaps Peter Zumthor’s design for the Swiss Pavilion. The Expo 2000 grounds now remain in a state of semi use/semi ruin. Massive permanent structures are slowly decaying, unused except for the occasional graffiti artist. This is unfortunately not the first time, nor likely not the last time a mega event site will meet this fate. The failure at Hannover becomes all the more embarrassing as a major theme of this expo was devoted to sustainability.
William McDonough developed the Hannover Principles, specifically created to guide the planning and future purpose of the expo site. This document later led to his forward thinking book, Cradle to Cradle. Though admirable, McDonough’s principles were not enough on their own to alter the future of this site. A few of the pavilions have found new life, others have been taken down and rebuilt elsewhere, but the site remains largely abandoned. There was intent to reuse the site; unfortunately, those plans were never realized. The promoted goal was to establish an Information Communications Technology, or ICT, cluster. Similarly to the expo, this plan was based more on an ideal scenario than actual existing conditions.
In a study of Germany, Hannover was ranked well below cities like Berlin and Munich to successfully grow an ICT cluster.6 Various initiatives have brought different businesses and start up companies onto the expo grounds, but the overall initiative lacks cohesion and an organizing goal. Ten years later there has been no large research center or Multinational Corporation to move into the area as desired. The likelihood of a cluster forming now is much less likely, especially as zoning has been changed to allow for retail development on the site. The future of the expo grounds remains uncertain and may continue to be abandoned and unused for years to come. One of the main issues in finding organizations to relocate to the expo grounds has been its far distance from the center city. Though easily accessible because of the infrastructure improvements that were made, being half an hour from the city center makes it out of the way. The great failure of the architecture here now is its inability to leave the expo milieu. It remains stuck in the 6 months of the expo back in 2000, living in a theme park world that no longer exists.
The ability of this project is not to solve the entirety of global failures of mega event venues. Its goal is to speak to the larger architectural issues present and respond with a site specific proposal that learns from the failures it is reacting to. The temptation when approaching this project is to merely develop a ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ idea to rebuild this place. If the expo was not enough and an ICT cluster didn’t work, perhaps those blocks were merely the wrong shape to fit in this hole and the solution simply requires finding the right program. This approach cannot hope to find a fix because it assumes the same logical fallacies as the expo to begin with. This strain of logic concludes if something is big enough, important enough, it will succeed. The inner designer struggles to believe that beauty and design alone are not enough to renew a space. In this location, where there is not the incentive or interest for large-scale development, another tactic must take its place.
In considering the many failures of this site, I identified the issue of waste as the most pressing. The remaining pavilions on the site sit empty, abandoned, and unused. They are waste. Instead of lasting for several months, they have and will continue to rot here for years. Many have already been demolished or are soon slated for demolition where they will only add to landfills. This process goes directly against any sustainable thought or intention for this site. Because of this immediate need, my proposed program is a recycling processing center and storage site. Wood, glass, steel, concrete, and unused technical systems abound throughout the many pavilions. This center will work to salvage as much as possible from the structures. The materials will be prepared as needed for either use in other building projects or to be wholly recycled and reused in new ways.
It is imperative that this new construction learns from the mistakes of the expo and its design is proactive in resisting the same end. A new structure is necessary on this site because the remaining pavilions would require much work to become inhabitable. The permanence of these structures also betrays the temporary nature of this new work and would again fail to learn or respond to past failures. The warehouse, research labs, and gallery are designed to meet their temporary needs. The various components are capable of being disassembled and used elsewhere as necessary. For example, the precast concrete panels that will be used for offices and research centers are capable of existing completely independently of the rest of the built environment. There is an understanding here that this space does not need to last forever, nor is it meant to. This knowledge is carried throughout the project to the specific design of bolt connections and foundations. Ultimately all that will remain is a footprint, a memory of what once was.
The final portion of the project is the need to educate. As McDonough realizes in Principle 9, the sharing of knowledge is a vital part of the process. Education will occur in two ways on the site: first, through interacting with the ‘ghost’ pavilions and, secondly, through the education gallery within the main structure. Once stripped of useable resources, remnants of the pavilions will remain as markers, reminders of the past, the failures of the expo, but also the need and ability to change and improve. Within the site, now acting as a large park, these memorials will speak of what has been and alert to the necessity of change in regard to our wasteful obsession with mega events like the expo and Olympics. These markers will vary from visible structural remnants to the outline of concrete foundations. The second mode of education will be through the public gallery. Here, visitors will be able to learn about the process of recycling the expo as well as the methods used. This space can also serve as an art gallery to host events also informing the public for the need to alter our ways and learn from past mistakes.
This project could become a precedent for dealing with similar sites, but its true goal is to prevent future need for this type of retroactive project. There are many positive aspects of mega events. They are capable of uniting the world and celebrating cultures in a way otherwise not possible. However, as these events continue to grow and expand there is a need for the way in which they are planned and developed to change. Either their long-term life spans must be viewed as important as their immediate functions and thus result in actual viable permanent spaces, or the architecture of these events must become more nimble and appropriately reflect their actual lifespan. Newer event sites like the London 2012 Olympics show promise for creating sustainable long-term sites, but only time will be able to tell if we have finally reached a turning point in the design of mega event sites.
1.Wikipedia. Accessed September 10, 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World%27s_fair.
2.van Wesemael, Pieter. Architecture of Instruction and Delight: a sociohistorical analysis of world exhibitions as a didactic phenomenon (1798-1851-1970). Rotterdam: Uitgeverij, 2001.
3. Fesche, Klaus, and Carl-Hans Hauptmeyer. EXPO 2000 - Die Firma. Hameln, Germany: Niemeyer, 2002.
4. Walvis, Tjaco. Branding with Brains: The Science of Getting Customers to Choose Your Company. : Pearson Edu¬cation, Limited, 2009.
5. Fesche, Klaus, and Carl-Hans Hauptmeyer. EXPO 2000 - Die Firma. Hameln, Germany: Niemeyer, 2002.
6. Diez, Javier R. "Hannover after the World Exhibition EXPO 2000--An Attempt to Establish an ICT-cluster." Euro¬pean Planning Studies 11, no. 4 (2003): 379-394.
7. Wikipedia. Accessed September 10, 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanover.
8. McDonough, William. The Hannover principles: design for sustainability : prepared for EXPO 2000, the World’s Fair, Hannover, Germany. : W. McDonough Architects, 1992. Accessed January 3, 2011.
Status: School Project
Location: Hannover, Germany
Additional Credits: Thesis Advisor- James Wines