The History of World Expositions

The Saint Louis World Exposition 1904
"Ivory city" â exhibition palaces, festival hall and cascades


Year: 1904
City: St. Louis
Country: USA
Duration: 30th April - 1st December 1904
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Copyright:
Architecture

Before the start of the building work, a commission of architects and landscape gardeners met in order to develop the architectural concept for the "Main Picture". What was meant by this was the prestigious area of the exhibition in the north-easterly part of the site with its large palaces, arranged in the form of a fan around a festival hall on a higher level. The single-storey buildings, which were no more than twenty metres high, were supposed to be harmoniously linked together by wide boulevards, large squares with lagoons, sunken gardens and landscaped parks with shaded squares. As the park was to be returned free of buildings after the exposition, the architects Skiff and Masqueray constructed temporary buildings based on the model of French scenery architecture. Huge scaffolds made of steel and wood with entrances on all sides were clad with elaborately designed plaster facades whose style was reminiscent of the neo-classicism of the École des Beaux-Arts which was influential in America at the time.
The exhibition palaces were symmetrically grouped around the generously proportioned route connecting the main entrance and the central festival hall. The section between the statue of liberty and the statue of St. Louis on horseback who gave the city its name was a particularly prestigious area and the venue for concerts and military parades. To the south of this axis were the buildings for manufacturing, instruction and social economy, mining and the liberal arts and to the north were the palaces of industry, accommodating, among other things, the department of arts and crafts, of electricity and machinery, the boiler house and the transport palace. The impressive effect of these buildings was not only due to their size but to the design of their facades, which enhanced this effect with towers, arcades, elaborate portals, Roman arcs and corner pavilions. To celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the steam engine, the transport palace had been designed in the form of a huge railway station. Inside it was a working steam engine installed on a rotating platform as the "spirit of the twentieth century". Surrounded by a railway track with a length of six kilometres, this presentation was meant to highlight the existential significance of the railway (the development of the automobile was still in its early days and aviation was a vision of the future) particularly for opening up the American Mid West.

In terms of architecture, the festival hall on Art Hill, behind the large pond, formed the highlight of this part of the site. The New York architect, Cass Gilbert, had designed this ornamental circular construction as a concert hall to seat more than 3,500 people, with a dome that was bigger than that of St. Peter's in Rome. Here, concerts were held every day on the world's biggest organ. On each side of the hall were the slightly curved colonnades resembling protective arms and whose individual arcs with their inscriptions and allegoric sculptures each symbolised one of the thirteen of the first American states. Most effective were Masqueray's waterworks in front of the hall where, thanks to a pump system which could shift 170 litres of water per minute, three waterfalls cascaded down into the large pond below between fountains and decorative sculptures. The pond, which had a diameter of 180 metres, expanded into huge lagoons which crossed half of the exhibition site along the main streets. Their banks were lined with balustrades which were decorated with lanterns. The bridges bore decorative sculptures such as a fight between polar bears and sea-lions or scenes from the Wild West. In the evening the visitors were invited to sail across white, red and turquoise waters in Venetian gondolas and, due to the use of mercury vapours, to experience the transformation of the cascades into a fire-spitting volcano with flowers ascending from its embers.



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