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Photographing the ‘Lost Utopias’ of the Remaining World’s Fairs

A new book looks at the sites which once promised to be the future.

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New York 1964 World’s Fair, Peace Through Understanding, Unisphere, 2009.  (All Photos: © Jade Doskow/Courtesy Black Dog Publishing)

 “I have seen the future”: these words appeared in blue capitalized letters, across a white circle, on a button worn by visitors to the “Futurama” exhibit at New York’s 1939-40 World’s Fair. With a theme full of promise—“Building the World of Tomorrow”—an estimated 26 million visitors streamed into the site in Flushing Meadows, Queens, in the first year alone to look at the newest technologies and to be entertained.

The site at Flushing Meadows was re-commissioned for New York’s 1964 World’s Fair, which saw the debut of color TV and the “picturephone”, a new video conferencing medium decades before Skype. The 650 acres where this all took place is used today as a public park, and the well-known Unisphere, a symbol of the fair’s theme “Peace through Understanding,” still stands.

But not all of the World Fair exhibitions have been quite so lucky. At Expo ‘86 in Vancouver, the idealistic-sounding “Friendship 500 “was a McDonalds restaurant on a floating barge, nicknamed, the McBarge. It remained abandoned ever since, a floating relic, until earlier this year, when reports surfaced of the barge’s revival. 

Vancouver 1986 World’s Fair, World Exposition on Transportation and Communication, McBarge, View with Flowers, 2014. 

These places—monuments, parks and buildings—that were once filled with promise are the focus of Jade Doskow’s new book Lost Utopias. Doskow began photographing former World Fair sites in 2007, and her book is an intriguing, beautifully photographed collection of World’s Fair architecture. Some are decayed, some have been graffitied and some, like the Eiffel Tower and Brussels Atomium, are perennial tourist attractions.

For Doskow, the fascination also comes with what the buildings represented. “It’s because of the utopian and dystopian characters of these sites; because old buildings falling apart are not just old buildings falling apart,” she writes in the book. “There is so much vision that was put into these daring structures.” Enjoy a selection of lost places below:

Paris 1937 World’s Fair, Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, Nudes, Palais de Tokyo, 2007.

St Louis 1904 World’s Fair, Louisiana Purchase Exposition, Flight Cage, View 2, 2013.

Montreal 1967 World’s Fair, Man and His World, Habitat ’67, Day View, 2012.

 New York 1964 World’s Fair, Peace Through Understanding, Airplane, 2011.

Chicago 1933 World’s Fair, A Century of Progress International Exposition, Site of North Lagoon, 2008.

New York 1964 World’s Fair, Peace Through Understanding, Port Authority Heliport, 2014.

San Diego 1915 World’s Fair, Panama-California Exposition, Moreton Bay Fig Tree, 2013.

Buffalo 1901 World’s Fair, The Pan Am Exposition, Site of Japanese Village, 2009.