Launch Slideshow

Report from the 2012 World Expo in South Korea

Report from the 2012 World Expo in South Korea

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    Blaine Brownell

    Landscape architecture is the common thread that connects the various elements of the Yeosu 2012 World Expo site.

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    Blaine Brownell

    The Yeosu Expo site in its larger context

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    Blaine Brownell

    The west entry gate, Yeosu World Expo

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    Blaine Brownell

    A view from the upper level of the international pavilion, demonstrating the desire to connect structure, circulatiion, and plantings

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    Blaine Brownell

    A view from the upper level of the international pavilion, demonstrating the desire to connect structure, circulation, and plantings

In the history of the world exposition, thematization has played an important role in shaping overall content. Generally, officially sanctioned themes—usually a well-intended yet innocuous phrase—provide a minimal topical framework for the general plan, pavilion design, and exhibitions. The comprehensive physical disposition of exposition sites are therefore intended to relate to the themes, but also responds to other cues in reflection of the broader zeitgeists.

In the case of the World Expo of 2012 in Yeosu, South Korea, the "The Living Ocean and Coast" theme is appropriate for this port city's coastal site and issues of current concern for the health of marine environments. Although this exposition pales in size when compared with the memorable Shanghai expo of 2010, it is still impressive in its scale and ambition. But besides raw acreage, there is a another, more notable distinction between the two expositions.

The Shanghai expo was, among other things, a massive work of urban planning, straddling both sides of the Huangpu River in southern Shanghai. Yet perhaps the most memorable aspect of this expo was its architecture—particularly the theme pavilions of world nations, which were distributed like suburban houses on individual parcels.

The Yeosu expo, by contrast, is about landscape. By landscape, I am referring not only to natural plantings, but to the overall ground- and marine-scape, including circulation and infrastructure. The world-nation pavilions here assume the form of interior spaces within a large international pavilion. Compared with Shanghai, this is initially disappointing, given the fact that the opportunity for individual architectural showpieces is lost. But Yeosu's landscape of connectivity, with its well-orchestrated systems of paths, bridges, and overlooks, turns out to be a refreshing alternative to a predictable array of object-buildings.

At Yeosu, it is not that architecture is missing, but rather that it is largely integrated with the other elements of the constructed environment. There are, of course, standalone buildings, but the overall park constitutes a thoughtful interweaving of elements that connect varied and disparate activities in an immediately navigable network. No doubt influenced by the emerging field of landscape urbanism, the Yeosu expo plan demonstrates the positive benefits that can result when the distinctions between different design disciplines take a back seat to the priority objectives of connectivity and deep integration.

Read the next part in this series.