Urso Chappell was 15 when he visited his first world's fair. Held in Knoxville, Tenn., Expo '82 wasn't perfect: Its theme, “Energy Turns the World,” was a carryover from the cost-of-oil–conscious '70s, and attendance was low, historically speaking. But with 22 countries represented, it was enough to get the teenager hooked on the spectacle. Chappell has been an exposition fan and researcher ever since.
A San Francisco–based graphic designer, Chappell launched expomuseum.com in 1998. Recent hot news includes the selection of Yeosu, South Korea, as the host for Expo 2012 and the unveiling of blue-skinned Haibao, the mascot of the 2010 fair in Shanghai, China. The site is an impressive resource on the history of world's fairs, and Chappell hopes it will one day become a physical museum. Until then, the online version is structured around a timeline: For every event since the 1937 fair in Paris—and for many prior ones—Chappell provides a brief synopsis and links to data, photos, and maps. A discussion forum creates a community of fellow aficionados and is a clearinghouse for questions on mascots, pavilions, and politics. World's fairs are notable for their pavilion architecture. “It's like creating an experimental city unto itself,” notes Chappell. History books cite the iron-and-glass Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton to house London's Great Exhibition of 1851, as the beginning of Modernism, and Chappell starts his timeline at that moment. In 2000, MVRDV's Dutch Pavilion for the expo in Hanover, Germany, wowed with its stacked environments, but whole fairs have slipped by unnoticed. Did you know Expo 2005 was held in Aichi, Japan? “Most people assume world fairs don't happen anymore,” admits Chappell. “The last one in North America was Vancouver, in 1986. There is a whole generation that doesn't know what they are.”
Still, he optimistically tracks developments. This June is Expo 2008, in Zaragoza, Spain. One signature structure will be the Zaha Hadid/Arup–designed Pavilion Bridge, the form of which is clad in fibreC, a sustainable material, thus encapsulating the fair's theme, “Water and Sustainable Development.” Expos can still thrive, says Chappell. “My hope is the website will have an inspirational value.”