World’s Fair Architectural Leftovers: Paris, Barcelona and more!

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Mies van der Rohe's Pavilion in Barcelona. Photo by Fatlum.
Mies van der Rohe's Pavilion in Barcelona. Photo by Fatlum.

It was only by a stroke of luck that the Eiffel Tower ended up in Paris. Gustave Eiffel designed the landmark tower for Barcelona. But the civic authorities had doubts about the appropriateness of such a tower for the Catalan city.


Barcelona’s Palau Nacional. Photo: Paula Funnell

Undaunted by the setback, Eiffel had better luck with Paris and, despite some opposition from local residents, the structure was constructed for the 1889 World Fair (Expo) – with the understanding that it would be dismantled thereafter. In the end it stayed, and few are the visitors to the Paris icon today who remember that the tower was initially designed to be merely a temporary addition to the Paris skyline.

World-class architecture in Barcelona

The general idea with Expos is that landmark buildings are constructed for the event, and then dismantled after the exhibition has concluded. And that is just what happened to the German pavilion for the 1929 event in Barcelona. It was demolished in January 1930. Later, Mies van der Rohe commented that working in Barcelona had been a high point of his professional life, and such was the enthusiasm for the lost pavilion that in 1986 it was reconstructed. Today it rates as a world class piece of European architecture.

A pavilion reborn

It is a wonderful building, a temple to the appeal of the Modern Movement. Sleek, textured and cool, the pavelló is an oasis of polished travertine and marble in lovely Montjuïc, southwest of Barcelona’s city center. From Montjuïc, there are super views over Barcelona and an opportunity to see the architectural legacy of the 1929 Expo and the 1992 Olympics – which were both based on and around Montjuïc.

Famous Expo leftovers

Hannover's large mailbox. Photo: Photocapy

Hannover’s large mailbox. Photo: Photocapy

Some other buildings from that Barcelona fair won a reprieve from demolition. The Palau Nacional is a beautiful palace that was constructed as the centerpiece for the 1929 Expo. Original plans to demolish it met with fierce opposition from Barcelona citizens and the building found new life as home to a museum devoted to Catalan visual art.

Many European cities have World Fair leftovers that escaped the post-event bulldozers. The Oceanarium in Lisbon, a leftover from Expo 1998, is one. In the Heysel area of Brussels, the Atomium is another. It was built for the 1958 World Fair and celebrates the achievements of a generation that had – for better or worse – developed a fuller understanding of the atom.

Our favorite Expo relic, however, is in Hannover, where a 150-foot-high mailbox is a quirky reminder of the 2000 World Fair in Hannover – probably the most lackluster Expo event of all time, but that outrageous mailbox always raises a smile.

About the author


About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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