On February 28, 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its “bleakest warning yet” on global warming’s effects on planet Earth. For perspective, let’s time travel into the future and take a look back from there.
Salutations visitor! Your tour awaits! Please transfer 19,999.99 credits to initiate the immersion.
Thank you. Now kindly set your projector to Incognito and follow me into the streamlet.
Behold! Welcome to All the World’s World’s Fairs! A little background before your personalized tour of the ancient past begins: From the moment this park opened in 4022, billions of guests have tapped in. They came from every corner of the planet and all over the C.H.Z. Whether tele-experiencing from Earth or somewhere else in the Circumstellar Habitable Zone, people yearn for the excitement of roaming through ancient fairgrounds. I mean, who wouldn’t want to explore old cultures and absorb the architecture of past civilizations? Today, you, too, will stare in wonderment at how bygone humans used fantastical “buildings” to define the present and extrapolate the future.
There is so much to take in! Please consider this an education of a lifetime, visitor. Today, you will learn firsthand how sapiens—
Oh, sorry. Right. Henceforth, I shall call you “Alvin.” My knowledge clip indicates that you’re an architect, Alvin. How wonderful for you! I’ll be interested to hear your take on how sapiens’ “buildings” and today’s buildings differ. There are so many examples we might discuss. Almost 300,000 expos, festivals, and biennales in this virtual space contain aboveground constructed environments. Imagine that!
Back to my intro spiel. Many of these recreated events have zones packed with exhibits from “nations,” another ancient concept I shall describe as we go along. There are also industrial areas hawking yesteryear miracles of science and technology. Shops and food stations galore offer incomparable—
Say what? You want to slew to the 1964 New York World’s Fair? Um, an excellent choice, Alvin, but allow me to suggest we begin at an earlier period. Just for context, if you will. For example, the 1844 Paris International Exposition had 40 galleries arranged in a grand hall that demonstrated the agricultural machinery that would eventually decimate soils all over the globe.
No? OK, perhaps more impressive structures suit you—for instance, London’s Great Exhibition of the Works of All Nations in 1851. The Crystal Palace is a sight to behold, a masterpiece if ever there was one. It housed hundreds of the machines that would soon destroy the planet’s biome.
Not interested? Not to worry! Allow me to take you to the 1889 Exposition Universelle. Although themed around the French Revolution, the fair is primarily remembered for the distinctive wrought-iron lattice tower that became the symbol of Paris. The spire stood until it was shelled by the Muscovite Army days before Paris was annexed in 2035. Oligarchs immediately replaced the Eiffel Tower with a dour two-story pavilion that demonstrated “how we can better understand each other despite our differences.”
Still a nonstarter? Alrighty. I am sure the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition will meet your most demanding expectations. The fair celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to steal Indigenous lands. Along with iconic edifices, the world’s first Ferris wheel was born, an archaic contraption that spun—
Sigh. You’re a tough one, Alvin. No, no, I wasn’t trying to insult you. ’Twas merely a joke. You see, “tough,” in this sense refers—
My name? I don’t have one. Because I am artificial, Alvin, that’s why. Call me “Guide” if you think I need a handle. Okay, Gilda. Gilda is fine. I am Gilda the Guide. Whatever.
Most of my visitors are surprised to learn that sapiens built from the ground up instead of ground down. It took historians and archeologists years to figure out how they did this.
Ah, you already know how. Of course, you do; you’re an architect. Makes perfect sense. But you say you’re in search of a more fundamental answer. To what question?
Oh, dear. That’s a tough one. No, no. Your question, not you.
Hey, have you heard of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe? He designed the German Pavilion at the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. That small enclosure helped introduce the pure, simple forms that would create ages of banal and meaningless architecture. Wanna see it?
Well, then, how about Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome for the U.S. pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal? “Bucky’s Bubble” was the inspiration for the giant domes that failed to prevent cities from dying throughout the Great Climate Change.
Jeez, I’m running out of—aha! I have it! Let’s visit Moshe Safdie’s Habitat, also constructed for Expo 67. Beautiful architecture it is. Too bad his ideas for low-cost housing in dense urban environments proved too costly.
What else have I got? The 2052 “Floating Cities of Tomorrow” exposition on the Isle of Dallas is pretty good. Also, 2835’s “The Future is Underwater” fair in Rome. Maybe the 3522 “Let’s Go Mars Biennale” on Deimos?
Hmm. You keep mentioning 1964 New York. Perhaps you have a deep connection to that long-lost city. Or maybe you harbor DNA from what was once called the American East Coast? Permit me to recommend your adventure begin instead at the 1939 World’s Fair, also held in New York. The exposition promoted “Building the World of Tomorrow,” symbolized by two immense objects: the “Trylon” and “Perisphere,” which were connected by a pedestrian “Helicline.” The collection signaled the “Dawn of a New Day.” What better place to gaze into the mindset of early humans trying to comprehend the incomprehensible and coming up once again short?
I give up. Queens circa 1964 it is.
Et voilà. We are standing atop what was called the “Bridge of Nations,” an elevated path denoting “Peace Through Understanding.” It opened just as the Vietnam War was hitting its stride.
Ooh, a learning moment: There’s that funny word again: “nation.” You see, Earth was once home to many quote-unquote countries. Before the advent of subterranean city-states, practically all Homo sapiens lived on Earth’s surface within population clusters defined by artificial boundaries, which—
Alvin, where are you going? The international area is to our left. No, sir, the other left.
Okay, as you wish. Let’s walk right toward the industrialists’ pavilions. Ford Motor Company’s “Magic Skyway” was one of the most popular attractions at the fair. A company called W.E.D. Enterprises designed the ride as a journey through time. Included were animatronic dioramas that traced how the fossil fuel industry came into existence, the same commercial enterprise that doomed the species. How fun! And it was narrated by none other than Mr. Walter Elias Disney himself!
Oh my goodness. Alvin, I am very sorry, you cannot do that. Please switch your Incognito mode back on. You are not from this time. The crowds will notice you.
Alvin! People wore clothes back then!
Shoot, you’ve disappeared out of my field of view. Can you hear me? Gilda calling Alvin!
Ah, there you are, behind a tree. I beg you to slow down, sir. I don’t want to lose you again.
Say, Alvin, I’ve got a wonderful idea. Let’s you and I enter the Ford pavilion discreetly. Novel, don’t you think? Follow me closely, now. No, closer. Stay under my cape. In fact, take the damn cape and wrap it around yourself or something.
Hmm. Nicely done. You seem to fit right in. To folks standing in line, your wearing a loincloth makes it look like you’re part of the ride. How immersive is that?
Okay, get ready. Here it comes. Jump into one of these Ford motorcars on the moving conveyor belt. Excellent. Now turn on the radio. It’s the first knob thingy near the other round thingies. Mr. Disney’s explanation of what we’ll be seeing during the ride comes out of the top.
Ha. I can see you’re having a good time piloting this Mustang. So do others, I’m afraid. Cinch your loincloth a little higher and tighter, will you, Alvin? Thank you.
Whew, that was fun. Didn’t mind going around a second time myself. But shouldn’t four orbits be enough? What was your favorite part? For me, it was the futuristic city. Boy, did those guys get that wrong. I mean, a future with blue skies and fresh air. Haha. How utterly naïve. How anticlimactic.
You agree with my calling it “anticlimactic”? I am honored, sir. But why did you like the cave dwellers best? I mean, they were cute and all. But, those dinosaurs!
Nope, you liked the troglodytes better. If you don’t mind me asking, why is that?
Their caves, you say. Caves were the first and last environmentally conscious architecture built by man, in your opinion. Um, not to get picky, Alvin, but unlike today’s constructed below-grade environments, prehistoric caves were not exactly built. Technically, they were discovered and then inhabited. Still, I grant you the improbable connections between ancient and modern caverns. Allow me to add to your argument that caves were to prehistoric people as subterranean architecture is to modern man. Caves then and caves now offer refuge from the elements. A hundred and seventy-five thousand years ago, natural cavities, alcoves, and grottos allowed people to escape cold and rain. Today, designed caverns offer respite from radiated storms and gamma-laced dust in the wind. But let me also suggest that the evolutionary paths of prehistoric and contemporary cave-dwellers overlay and diverge. For example, modern humans ditched clothing because birthday suits made it easy to take hourly decontamination showers. Prehistoric humans paraded around naked just for fun, yet did not bathe.
Yeah, I made that last part up. It’s possible they did wash now and again.
What do you mean, “Eureka! That’s where it all went wrong?” You think humans should never have built structures above ground? Interesting proposition, Alvin. Yes, I agree that subterranean architecture would have prevented sapiens from polluting and parching the surface of their planet. Constructing, maintaining, heating, and cooling above-ground buildings generated carbon loads that overwhelmed the species. I also see your point that cave-dwelling could have prevented all those atomic wars. Early hunter-gatherers were undoubtedly more peaceful than the hunter-killers they became.
Still, something about Homo sapiens’ magnificent constructions in this park resonates. These were noble aspirations and prophecies made physical, even though unpersuasive and unsuccessful in the end.
My goodness, Alvin. Why are you crying?
Look, let’s get out of here, clothed or not. I’ve got another destination to suggest, a place to end your tour on a diverting note: Expo 2025, in Osaka, Japan. The theme was “Designing Future Society for Our Lives.” I think you’ll enjoy it, even though what happened afterward was rather tough.
Where are you going now? Goodness, get off that rock, man. And leave the animatronic caveman alone. He’s supposed to be inventing the wheel.
Come back, Alvin. You can’t stop progress.
And I want my cape back!
Featured image courtesy of the author. All others via Wikipedia Commons.