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A New Era for Kuala Lumpur

World’s Through the Ages

1851 The Crystal Palace.

1876 First typewriter, first and the gigantic Corliss steam

1889 PARIS The Eiffel

1893 CHICAGO The world’s Ferris wheel.

1904 ST. The debut of the ice cream cone.

SAN FRANCISCO Giant scale of Yellowstone Park and the Grand

1933–34 CHICAGO The Graf .

1939–40 NEW YORK The General Futurama exhibit.

1939–40 SAN The Golden Gate Bridge.

BRUSSELS The Atomium building.

SEATTLE The Space Needle.

NEW YORK The Unisphere, built by Steel.

1992 SEVILLE the 500th anniversary of Christopher first voyage to the Americas.


World’s fairs were extravagant showcases for cultural and for new inventions—not to mention national Luke Barr travels to Japan, to see whether the first of the 21st century can deliver the thrill.

Inside the Toyota Pavilion at Expo 2005 in Japan, a show is in progress: a of gleaming white robots trumpets are playing jazz. Out another one, keeping on a drum machine, and now they’re by a human MC, rapping in Japanese.

Utaou! Arukou! Genki ni kara! (Let’s sing! walk! Because we’ll all energized!)

Even if the music is the robots themselves are impressive—they with eerie humanity. have rubber lips of sort, and are playing real Some of them even or at least bend their in time to the music. And then the main event. The stage, resembles an ice rink at the center of an is cleared, and a modern-dance performance It’s two parts Cirque du and one part Star Wars . is elaborate, mesmerizing trapeze a video projected on the ceiling; and a turn by Toyota’s futuristic a one-person concept car. and dancers circle each in a kind of high-tech mating set to a sound track of loud, music. This goes on for some time, but eventually, dancer finds a matching and the dance is consummated as they off the stage.

The show at the Toyota is one of the highlights of the exposition, and an opportunity to the apparent anachronism of a 21st-century fair. Since London’s Exhibition of 1851, the celebration of an for which the legendary Crystal was built, these events drawn millions of visitors to experience the shock of the new. The engine debuted at the Paris in 1900, nylon fabric and the TV set were seen at the 1939–40 New fair. But this is (and has for some time) an age of telecommunication, jet travel, and the Internet—all forces would seem to obviate the to build a replica of the global in miniature every few years and invite everyone to come see the inventions. After all, we live in the actual global

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Perhaps partly in response to conundrum, the organizers of the Aichi which is about 45 minutes by from Nagoya, have a theme not of grandiose optimism and (The World of Tomorrow was New 1939–40 tagline) but of caution and Nature’s Wisdom is the slogan, and awareness—broadly defined—is the agenda. is the anti-expo: every structure at the 400-acre site (including 62 representing 120 countries, all connected by a walkway) will be removed it’s over, leaving no behind. But although the eco-conscious is the message, it is more than by the expo’s dominant medium, is extravagant national and corporate usually involving video Nearly every pavilion, the Red Cross’s to Jordan’s to Spain’s, use of some spectacular projected presentation—on walls, on ceilings, on Unlike the world’s fairs of the which strove to amaze audiences with novelty, the version, it seems, seeks to us with the cold manipulations of

One of the best examples of this is at the pavilion, the centerpiece of which is a room with videos on all surfaces, videos that a riveting and rather apocalyptic of Third World poverty, pollution, consumerism, overpopulation, warming, and war. It’s a produced, impressionistic documentary despite its grim subject is often beautiful to look at. So to be done?What is the solution to poverty, war, and the rest?No answers are here; that task is to smaller, peripheral installations French efforts—governmental and commercial—to greenhouse gases, build and so forth.

Most pavilions this model: a main supplemented by a series of smaller that usually highlight the and innovations of the important businesses of the At the glitzy First World these are generally the same who’ve paid to sponsor the for PR purposes and partly to get access to the meetings that are in some the raison d’être of the exposition.

is certainly the case at the U.S. where Ambassador Lisa presides over a vast VIP outfitted with leather and club chairs, a formal room for state dinners, and art on the walls. No public money was on this—none, says Gable, that U.S. participation in the is paid for entirely by 42 corporate including the National Association of GM, and American Airlines along state business groups and a few Over the course of the six-month-long the governors of 10 states are scheduled to through, each extolling the of doing business in his or her state. a highly polished State appointee with a background in brand management, speaks of the messaging that is occurring

Downstairs, meanwhile, a large files into the theater, a Ben Franklin impersonator appears for a time-travel routine. He’s amazed at the 21st century and impressed with our technological Indeed, we have learned to nature’s wisdom, much as he lightning with his kite. The which seems targeted at kids age 10 and under, fudges of the details of its environmental message. tell me that part of very building is powered by a box makes electricity from element of the air itself, says And its only waste product is pure water. He proceeds to a glass of it. Of course, this quite true. Hydrogen cells don’t actually anything; they are essentially devices. It’s misleading to a battery as a clean energy

Thus the ecological theme its way into most of the pavilions in the of lip service. One exception, not surprisingly, is the pavilion, a marvel of cutting-edge and engineering innovation. The building is with bamboo latticework insulates it from the sun, the need for air-conditioning. This cocoon gives the structure a form reminiscent of Future Selfridges department store in England. One exterior wall is with bamboo grass and and constantly watered, which cools the interior. Koji the acting pavilion director, the various facets of the design in detail, cataloguing the use of biomass residual wood, nail-less and traditional roof tiles. we have, yes, but still the is strong and beautiful, he says in sounding positively Yoda-like. The man sincerity.

Yet even here, at the site of the coherent environmental presentation at the the premier attraction is another in total media saturation: Room, a 360-degree video some 40 feet across. viewers enter, they themselves standing on a transparent surrounded on all sides by a jungle animals everywhere, then underwater, and finally airborne, with birds Winged –style. It’s not 3-D, but the is vertiginous all the same, like swallowed by your TV set. The is the apotheosis of the exposition’s devotion to multimedia, and it’s stunning.

and also ironic. Shouldn’t Wisdom be discernible without the use of effects, screens, or goggles?There are of real nature to be found at the example, at Japan’s Forest Zone. Unfortunately, this is a small-treed affair, heavily and tiny. In this case, Room trumps the real It’s fair to say that the world expo as a whole as entertainment more than it deep, world-changing sentiment. inevitably, no modern expo can match the impact—or generate the world’s fairs of earlier, innocent eras.

At the Forest Experience Zone, are required to attend a 20-minute session before embarking on hikes, only to discover the entire accessible trail is than 200 yards long. may be forgiven for seeking nature’s elsewhere—at the Japan Gas Association perhaps?

Expo 2005 runs through September 28. See for details.

LUKE BARR is + Leisure ‘s news

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