A six-month birthday party
Vancouver’s 100th birthday was celebrated by Expo 86, a six-month transportation-themed world’s fair held on the northern and eastern shore of False Creek. Expo 86 was widely hailed for launching Vancouver as a global destination, transforming it from a sleepy town into a global metropolis. It attracted over 22 million people and remains the second biggest event in British Columbia history. It was the last world’s fair in North America, and featured pavilions from 54 nations. It was the first time China, the Soviet Union and the United States exhibited together at a North American fair. As a Class B fair (reflecting its specific emphases on transportation and communications), Expo 86 did not have the iconic national pavilions of larger fairs, instead exhibitors were given prefabricated buildings designed by fair architect Bruno Freschi.
Design of Expo Centre
The fair’s signature building, the shimmering “golf ball” Expo Centre, was designed by Freschi to serve as the visual anchor at the eastern end of the creek and mark the fair’s main entrance. The geodesic dome – an iconic form invented by Buckminster Fuller (see also Bloedel Conservatory) – was built from 766 aluminum triangles and supported by an outer frame of white steel. It housed Canada’s first (at the time, largest in the world) Omnimax theatre while the rest of the building was given over to exhibits on the future of transportation and technology. Freschi included his own tribute to Vancouver by siting the Expo Centre on the axis of Georgia Street connecting symbolically to the Jubilee fountain erected at the western end of Georgia at Lost Lagoon for the City’s 50th birthday. After extensive retrofitting, the dome became Science World, with an Omnimax theatre filling the dome.
Legacy of Expo
Expo 86 created many infrastructure legacies including Canada Place (formerly the Canadian Pavillion), BC Place, the Roundhouse Community Centre, the Dr. Sun-Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden, SkyTrain’s Expo line and of course, Science World – landmarks that have been integral to Vancouver’s cultural and civic development. The experience taught planners and the public important lessons about placemaking, civic space and the use of density. A cooperative planning process between the developer and the City generated a master plan for the 285 acre site that has also had a huge impact on the development of the rest of the downtown peninsula.
During the 2020 Global Pandemic, Science World had to close its doors and celebrated its 31st birthday with a virtual party.
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