Journal Article

Ephemeral City: Design and Civic Meaning at the 1904 World’s Fair

Joseph Heathcott

in Journal of Design History

Published on behalf of Design History Society

Volume 26, issue 1, pages 25-46
Published in print February 2013 | ISSN: 0952-4649
Published online October 2012 | e-ISSN: 1741-7279 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jdh/eps034
Ephemeral City: Design and Civic Meaning at the 1904 World’s Fair

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From May through December of 1904, St. Louis, Missouri hosted the largest World’s Fair ever devised, with thousands of buildings and concessions stretched across a carefully designed and meticulously organized park landscape. Most scholars regard the Fair primarily as a tableau for narratives of progress and for the rehearsal of imperial mastery. This paper argues that the Fair was also an elaborate argument for a civic design agenda, where the deployment of architecture, landscape architecture, and engineering would shape an orderly metropolitan future. To present this civic design agenda, Fair organizers drew upon a set of emerging urban practices to code a narrative of rational order, classical beauty, and progress through technology and industrial peace. Yet Fair designers expressed these meanings through an incoherent array of designs rendered in temporary, non-durable materials—a form of planned obsolescence. Ultimately, this incoherent and ephemeral design program would leave a mixed and elusive legacy both on the ground in St. Louis, and on the emerging urban professions in America.

Keywords: 1904 World’s Fair; architecture; City Beautiful; design professions; international exhibitions; landscape design

Journal Article.  10413 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Art ; Art Forms ; Industrial and Commercial Art ; Art Styles

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