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World Expo 1851 & Now: Barometer of Evolving Civilization

11 Aug 2023 9min 29sec

The decision to host the World Expo 2030 is just over four months away. Known as one of the world's top three events, along with the World Cup and Olympics, World Expo brings together the mankind’s greatest achievements and prospects for the future. Many countries are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to host the Expo, as it is a chance to showcase their country's status and reap huge economic benefits.

In Korea, the government and companies are making a concerted effort to host the World Expo amidst the wishes of the people. Hyundai Motor Group or HMG is no exception. HMG, led by Chairman Euisun Chung, is taking the lead in bidding for the World Expo by fully utilizing its network at home and abroad. Just as Chairman Juyung Chung took the lead in the bid for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and Honorary Chairman Mongkoo Chung traveled the world to secure the World Expo Yeosu 2012, Hyundai's unique spirit of challenge is being carried over to Busan as well. 

[ Hyundai Motor Group has been actively promoting to bid for the World Expo Busan 2030 since August 2021, by establishing a task force to support the bid. The video promoting the Busan Expo bid exceeded 100 million views within three months of posting, gaining attention from all over the world ]

History of the World Expo... Venue for Exchange of Goods between East and West 

What do the Eiffel Tower, elevators, and telephones have in common? Well, they were first introduced to the world at World Expo. Often referred to as the “Economic and Cultural Olympics”,  Expos are a diplomatic showcase for nations to raise their profile and discover the latest industry trends. From their earliest days, Expos were grand and spectacular. The Olympics, now the world's largest sports festival, was also once a side event of the World Expo. 

The world’s first expo was the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations (Great Exhibition), held in England in 1851. Also known as the ‘Crystal Palace Exposition’ for its large glass exhibition hall, the Great Exhibition was the first to showcase the giant cranes, locomotives, and other industrial products that fueled the Second Industrial Revolution. Since then, the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine (the Centennial Exhibition, 1876), Exposition Universelle de Paris 1889 (1889), Chicago Columbia Exposition (1893), etc. have introduced ahead-of-their-time inventions such as flush toilets, light bulbs, phonographs, automobiles, airplanes, X-rays, and television. As the chairman of the organizing committee of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis World's Fair, 1904) once said, "Even if all the achievements of mankind were to be destroyed, the exhibits of the nations gathered here would be sufficient in number to rebuild a civilization." As such, World Expos have become a barometer of how far our civilization has come.

(왼쪽) 1851년 런던에서 열린 최초의 세계박람회 모습. 수정궁 내부의 화려한 인테리어가 돋보입니다. (오른쪽) 프랑스는 1889년 파리 박람회를 기념하기 위해 에펠탑을 제작했습니다

[ (Left) The first World Expo, held in London in 1851, showcasing the ornate interiors of the Crystal Palace. (Right) France built the Eiffel Tower to commemorate the Exposition Universelle de Paris 1889 ]

Two World Expositions in Korea... Which Expo Masterpiece Did Hyundai E&C Build?

Korea's relationship with the World Expo dates back to the Chicago Columbia Exposition (1893) during the reign of King Gojong. Nestled amongst the overwhelming array of architecture, the ‘Joseon Exhibition Hall’ was small in size, but displayed a variety of crafts such as national music, embroidered folding screen, and government attire, etc. Starting with the Chicago Columbia Exposition, Korea showcased its traditional crafts and manufactured goods capturing the beauty of Korea at the Exposition Universelle de Paris (1899), Century 21 Exposition (Universelle Seattle World's Fair, 1962), and Expo 67 (Universal and International Exhibition, 1967). More than 100 years later, Korea took center stage in the international arena with Taejon Expo KOREA 1993 (Daejeon Expo, 1993).

▶1993 Daejeon Expo, ‘A New Leap Forward’

Kumdori, with its triangular yellow body and star antennae, was the mascot of the Daejeon Expo held in 1993. Kumdori, like the recent popular penguin character Pengsu, had become the main character in anime, games, etc. gaining huge popularity. With the popularity of Kumdori, Korea, a developing country, was able to make a name for itself in the global arena by hosting an expo that was once reserved for developed countries. The Daejeon Expo was a huge success, with 108 countries participating, far exceeding the original goal of 60 countries, and 14 million people visiting over 93 days.

At the time, the government built a national pavilion and a corporate promotion center on a 273, 000-pyeong site around Daedeok Research Complex to host the expo, and invested in building infrastructure. As part of the process, the Gyeongbu Expressway expansion project was underway (Suwon-Changwon) to improve regional accessibility. Hyundai E&C also participated in the construction of the Seoul section of the Gyeongbu Expressway (32.5 km to 132.6 km), which helped make the Expo a success. The company was also responsible for the construction of the Expo Bridge, which connected the Expo symbol tower to the plaza. The Expo Suspension Bridge was designed with a concept that embodies the traditional and philosophical image of Korea and remains a local landmark even to this day. 

(왼쪽) 1993년 대전엑스포의 마스코트로 선풍적인 인기를 끌었던 꿈돌이와 꿈순이. (오른쪽) 현대건설이 93년 7월 준공한 ‘엑스포 현수교’는 지역의 랜드마크로 자리 잡았습니다

[ (Left) Kumdori and Kumsuni, the mascots of the Taejon Expo 1993. (Right) ‘The Expo Suspension Bridge’, completed by Hyundai E&C in July 1993, has established itself as local landmark ]

▶Yeosu Expo 2012, 'Living Sea and Breathing Coast'

The Yeosu Expo, held 19 years after the Daejeon Expo under the theme ‘Living Sea and Breathing Coast’, attracted 105 countries and 10 international organizations. Yeosu, a small city in Korea with a population of 300,000, attracted 8 million visitors over the course of three months, establishing the city's image as a maritime leisure and tourism destination.

The Yeosu Expo has a special connection to Hyundai Motor Group. Honorary Chairman Mongkoo Chung traveled 126,000 kilometers, equivalent to three times around the world, as the Honorary Chairman of the Bid Committee for the Yeosu Expo, and made great contributions to the bid. At that time, Hyundai E&C also participated in the construction of major facilities, including the Big-O, Korea Pavilion, Thematic Pavilion, International Pavilion, and Hyundai Motor Group Pavilion. Among them, the Korea Pavilion was certified as the highest (Green 1) level green building by introducing renewable energy sources such as solar, solar thermal, and wind power, as well as hydrogen fuel cells. The Big-O, a 47-meter-high O-shaped structure, was the landmark building of the Yeosu Expo, and was much loved by visitors for its fountain show and night-time multimedia show against the ocean scenery. Hyundai E&C devised its own ‘Heavy-Lifting*’ method to build the structure, cutting the construction time by more than four months and dramatically lowering the need to mobilize offshore equipment.

*Heavy-Lifting: A method of constructing a podium (a subsea space where facilities and equipment are concentrated) on land and then lowering it vertically from the surface to the seabed and anchoring it using a temporary installation and hydraulic jack system.


[ (Left) Yeosu Expo overlooking the sea. (Right) The Thematic Pavilion is the core space that embodies the main theme of the Expo, 'Living Sea and Breathing Coast' ]

Busan is Ready...Thriving as Net-Zero City in 2030

Now back to the World Expo 2030. The host of the World Expo 2030 will be decided by a vote of member countries at the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) General Assembly in Paris this November, with South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Italy in a three-way race. The World Expo is known to attract 50 million visitors to the host country and generate an economic effect of 61 trillion won, but the impact of the event is not easy to calculate, as it covers more specialized and in-depth themes during its six-month duration. In addition, related industries such as construction, design, and logistics are expected to benefit greatly as major countries build their national pavilions at their own expense.

Under the theme of 'Transforming our world, navigating toward a better future', Korea plans to present net-zero technologies and solutions to overcome the climate crisis. The choice of 'Busan North Port' as the Expo venue was also made in consideration of the environment. In a departure from the past practice of developing vacant land on the outskirts of the city center, the government is planning to link the construction of the Expo site with the urban regeneration project already underway, and to this end, it is carrying out a two-phase redevelopment plan for North Port. Following the first phase, which included the construction of an international passenger terminal and a coastal observation deck, the second phase will begin once the Expo is officially confirmed.

북항 재개발 조감도

[ Aerial view of the redevelopment of Busan North Port, the Expo venue. Once the urban regeneration project is completed, Busan will emerge as a global maritime hub. ⓒBusan Port Authority ]

In addition, the world's first floating city will be built in the front waters of the Expo site in cooperation with UN-HABITAT. A sustainable floating city that responds to rising sea levels and climate change is a differentiating strategy that only Busan can offer, and study is actively being conducted to lay the groundwork. Hyundai E&C, Seoul National University, Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology, Korea Research Institute of Ships & Ocean Engineering, and others are advancing the creation of a floating city that was once considered a distant future through the national project called ‘Development of Structural System of Hybrid Floating Structure’. Among them, Hyundai E&C is researching various technologies to modularize the 'on-land' part of the floating city, i.e. floating structures, and ensure their safe construction. 

‘오셔닉스 부산’ 개념도

[ Conceptual drawing of 'Oceanix Busan', a maritime city planned to be built off the coast of Busan's North Port in 2030. ⓒoceani ]

Moreover, other mammoth SOC projects are underway, including Gadeokdo New Airport, with a project budget of 7 trillion won. The 'Seunghak Tunnel Private Investment Project' recently signed by Hyundai E&C is one of them. The Seunghak Tunnel is a core transportation network that connects North Port, where the Expo is held, to Gadeokdo New Airport in 30 minutes. Apart from the Expo, the tunnel is expected to contribute to the balanced regional development and address traffic issues, drawing attention of local residents.

The Expo 2030 is now in its final stages of the bid. As the saying goes, 'A dream dreamed alone is just a dream, but a dream dreamed together becomes a reality,' and we hope that  everyone's wishes will be fulfilled so that we can fully realize our vision in the world. Hoping that the Expo 2030 will be an opportunity to showcase Korea's status to the world and a shortcut to creating a competitive city that will be passed on to future generations, Hyundai E&C will also contribute to this new leap forward.