For a more human world.
An exposition held at Heysel Park on the outskirts of Brussels, Belgium, from April to October 1958. As with all world's fairs it was a chance for countries of the world and their corporations to show off their latest innovations and designs, and generally try to make people feel good about themselves. Belgium's King, King Baudouin and his brother Prince Albert opened the fair to the public on April 17th.
More than 150 pavilions featured from the 52 Countries that participated, which included The United States of America, the USSR, France, Austria, Switzerland, Iran and Japan. The 200-hectare site was split into seven sections:
This contained about one third of all the exhibits and pavilions at the fair, and displayed many of Belgium's most impressive achievements and the ways in which they were attained. People could visit working examples of many sections of Belgium's utilities, the emergency services (which doubled as actual emergency facilities), and hunter-gatherer industries. Several ancilliary industries had presences, like the telecommunications and transportation industries. Bell Telephone and IBM had their own pavilions, and a mockup of a railway station housed some of the most memorable examples of the locomotives serving Belgium's rail network.
One of the most impressive buildings in the Belgian Section was the Civil Engineering building which was raised from the ground, spreading out from two bases. A horn-shaped outcrop at least 15 metres long pointed outwards and slightly upwards from one end of the building without need for external support.
One of the smaller sections, this represented facets of the Belgian Congo, with pavilions displayed by the government, the agricultural, transportation and mining industries. The Catholic Mission in the Belgian Congo also had its own pavilion, in which a chapel was built. Seemingly a tradition in the world's fairs, a full-scale model of an African village also featured in this section of the fair. Near the village was 3 hectares given over to tropical gardens, as well as a dome-shaped pavilion which enclosed the Pavilion of Fauna.
The village was inhabited by members of the Congolese elite, who served as the Congo's delegation to the fair. While they were there they were able to learn much about the progress of their parent country and the rest of the world, as well as meet African people from independent countries. They took this knowledge home with them, considerably speeding up progress towards their own independence. The riots at Leopoldville occurred only 6 months after the fair closed; a further 14 months later in June 1960 the Belgian Congo was granted independence, and became Congo.
This was a section for individual countries to shine, showing off their businesses and achievements. Sadly little information is available on this section (anyone that can flesh this out, please do). All the attendant countries had their own pavilions in this section. With that in mind it is indeed curious that Protestant Churches, The Red Cross, and Philips also had their own pavilions there.
Notable structures include the then-largest circular building ever constructed (the US Pavilion), an aircraft hangar lookalike (the France pavilion), and a 'multimedia tent' (the Philips Pavilion). An extremely high walkway also rose above this section of the fair.
Although to the casual observer the focus seems to be the same as the Foreign Section, the International Section was about international cooperation - all the pavilions in this section of the fair were arranged around a central square - 'World Co-operation Square'. Fittingly the UN had a dome-shaped pavilion here, and other related organisations like the United Nations Eductional, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and UPU also had displays under the same roof. Collaborations between countries were a strong theme in this area.
One of the entrances to the section took visitors through the Hall of World Co-operation, in which displays taught visitors the problems of the world and how they might be solved, in an undoubtedly idealistic fashion. Other displays of cooperation in this section included the pavilion of Europe, the European Coal and Steel Community (whose pavilion was rather exotically suspended from six suspension bridges which arched above it), and the International Hall of Science.
This section contained what is probably the most enduring artifact and centrepiece of the 1958 World's Fair: the Atomium. As well as being the largest representation of a crystalline iron molecule ever made (or any molecule at all), several appearances in cartoon form on Timmy Mallett's Wacaday in the early 1990s can't have done any harm to its posterity. Possibly.
Also called 'Cheerful Belgium', this section was organised by 32 Belgian breweries. This was another section of the fair that replicated or approximated other sections of the world, altogether making up a semblance of a rather multi-faceted town. It contained some beautiful constructions, taken from designs indigenous to various parts of Belgium. About 150 houses were built in total; the town also had on hand a number of eateries, several dance halls and even a cinema.
Attractions and Others
Not really a section, but parts of the fair spread over the site that did not fit into the sections they were next to. It was mainly a fun fair but also had facilities for guests to get alternative views of the park. These ranged from cable-lifts traversing the site, to helicopter flights and train cars (so-called 'Expo-trains') that drove around the streets of the fair, calling at the most popular spots.
The smallest section of the fair, this contained displays of science and art projects. It aimed to give visitors an idea of scientific advances of the last 25 years (it had been 18 years since the last world's fair by the time the 1958 fair opened), displaying research into the atom, cells, and space exploration. The arts side of the section displayed works by international artists in several mediums, including paint, sculpture, plastic (then a very new concept), and glass blowing. This section neighboured the Belgian Section, where Oliver Strebelle's scrap-metal sculpture 'The Bayard Horse' was displayed on top of a column.
The fair hosted over 41 millon visitors during the 6 months it was open. Other statistics include 8 births, over 27 million tonnes of building material used and bizarrely, 27 suicide attempts.
The symbol of the fair was an irregular-shaped five-pointed star, the "Expostar". This made appearances all over the fair site, illuminating many of the pavilions and attractions at night; notably the 17 metre-high elevated walkway that traversed the Foreign section was lit entirely by neon Expostars on metal lattices above its open centre.
Anyone with further knowledge please node it, as there is only one substantial online source on the 1958 fair and even that lacks contextual details.
Thanks to Albert Herring for the correction and additional detail he provided.
- Nevi, Rudolf;
- François; "Expo 58";
- Zephir, Aaron; "Le Corbusier: Philips Pavilion, Brussels, 1958";
- (Author unknown); "Brussels World's Fair";
- Chappel, S.A; "ExpoMuseum / 1958 Brussels";
- Kaelin, James C; "Earth Station Nine";
- (Author unknown); "Philips Pavilion";
- (Author uknown); "Routes to Independence in Africa"; via Google cache (select all the following text);