A Meeting of Worlds - highlights from the Hanover Expo
Monday, 18 December 2000
Expo 2000, the first World Expo in Germany, closed its gates on 31st October after running for 153 days. During its brief lifespan, 18.1million visitors attended what was almost certainly the biggest event of 2000 and the country’s first really major showpiece since the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Expos are massive political, logistical, financial and creative undertakings: the host country needs nerves of steel, deep pockets (the Hanover Expo cost $1.65 billion), wealthy friends and a pretty extensive run at it (six years in this case). Still, the Germans were fortunate enough to have a head start, this being the first Expo ever to take advantage of existing trade fair facilities which contributed nearly 100 out of the 160 hectares of exhibition space.

The Hanover Expo took on the theme of ‘Humankind, Nature, Technology’, with over 170 participating countries and organisations (a record number in the history of the event) presenting their ideas for the future. Just under 50 of those countries built their own pavilions, and it is these that dominate the eyeline - architecturally and technically they are some of the most challenging structures you will ever see. Appropriately enough, the German pavilion is perhaps one of the most striking, with its facade composed of 2,900 glass elements. Also striking was Deutsche Telekom’s dramatically-mounted cube-shaped pavilion - T-Digit - walled entirely in glass, featuring the largest Sony JumboTron LED giant video screen (a massive 207sq.m) and supported by just one pillar inclining at an eight degree angle.

In keeping with its status on the world map, Canada had the second largest pavilion. Inside, a three-dimensional journey took the visitor along a ‘river’ consisting of 500 screens beneath a transparent pavilion floor, which led to a 360° cinema where a multi-sensory experience was presented using intelligent lighting synchronised to video and sound.

Naturally, some of the major corporate sponsors flexed their high-tech muscles, notably Bertelsmann, the major media group, with its Planet M pavilion and IBM with its Planet of Visions/The 21st Century. In fact this proved to be one of Expo’s most popular attractions (which is why the queues grew to epic proportions) offering visitors the chance to stroll through a ‘Panorama of Utopias’. Scenery, including futuristic skyscrapers, spherical cities, ancient temples and a unique flying ship, was bathed in ever-changing light. This pavilion also featured a highly complex smoke effects installation - a challenge that was risen to by local manufacturer The Smoke Factory, headed by Florian von Hofen. The smoke effects system, which had to be fully automated, includes 42 separate smoke machines covering the 16 separate scenes of the display, all controlled via an Avenger Show Controller (more on this particular aspect of Hall 9 in the next issue).

Pavilions at Expos, of course, always try and out-do each other in terms of uniqueness. Most however, although having original interiors, are still buildings from the outside. That is, they have four walls and a roof. The Dutch Pavilion, however, was different. The architect MVRDV of Rotterdam gave it no walls at all, so the cinema at its summit, is sitting on an upper floor held in place by large trees. The level below these featured giant pots, giving the impression that the roots of the trees are concealed inside. Some of the interior spaces for this were designed by MET Studio of London who worked with Peter Phillipson of Future Group Lighting Design for the gobo and colour light effects on the ‘flower pots’ and Graham English of McClean English to interpret the photographic projections. The sound to accompany this was a mixture of conversations in Dutch mixed into an appropriate cacophony by Tony Frossard of The Sound Experience using standard weatherproof speakers and amplifiers; crucially the mixing was done, live on site, via a 64-multitrack mixer running Ntrack software.

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