Unfinished business | Silvia Blanco Agüeira

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Masey, Jack y Morgan, Conway Lloyd. Cold War Confrontations. Zürich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2008.
Masey, Jack y Morgan, Conway Lloyd. Cold War Confrontations. Zürich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2008.

In May, 1958 the architect and critical Italian Bruno Zevi threw a furious assault against the Universal Exhibition of Brussels, describing it as a fair of the pretenses, in which every building was fighting for the attention of the public1. Enclosed Michael Fisac roared against the structural ostentation, the sterile formalism and the architectural extravagancy without content present in the above mentioned event2. Not so at least the most discreet pavilions and of minor it climbs they got away themselves from those critical voices that condemned the raised spectacle, when the technology turned into an element fetish for designers and architects3.

This reproof was deriving from the slogan chosen for the Expo58, which was going for title ” For a more human world “. Across him one was claiming a major attention towards the conflicts and injustices of the world, though it was not remaining very clear how this commitment with the humanism had to join to the architecture, or if it was necessary to make the domestic problems of a country evident in an event that supposed a public shop window. Nevertheless, there had the one who yes did it: the one who showed his miseries and internal problems to the world, before the others were fanning them. Opposite to what might be waited, this exercise of self-criticism and of psychoanalysis in full cold war it realized a country as the United States. Wrapped in an attractive and multicolored skin, the offer named Unfinished Business4, which might be translated as “unsolved matters”, complemented to the official pavilion and placed together with the same one in Heysel’s enclosure.

The construction was strange in many senses. It was not financed by the American government, but by a magazine related to the world of the finance – Fortune-, who turned in sponsoring of the Department of State. It was not designed by an architect, but by an illustrator of infantile stories of Dutch origin, Leo Lionni, who was the creative director of the magazine. And it was not an alone building, but they were three volumes placed on a garden and connected between yes. Each of them, with a height of six meters, were representing the past, the present and the future, respectively. The first piece, of folded aspect, was wrapped in his interior by a confused collage of American newspapers where there could be read holders related to the urbanism, the depletion of the natural resources and the racism. The second piece, that of the present, was showing the realized investigations and the steps given to solve the problems previously mentioned. But it was curiously the third one, that of the future, which turned out to be more incendiary: in his smooth walls there was a great photography where one saw children of different races (white, black and Asian) forming a circle, which enervated the spirits of the political segregationists. So much it is so in April, 1958 delegations were sent to Brussels, demanding photographies of the supposed damage5.

: Interior del tercer volumen, con la fotografía más controvertida: niños de distintas razas jugando y uniendo sus manos. Fuente: Masey, Jack y Morgan, Conway Lloyd. Cold War Confrontations. Zürich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2008.
Interior of the third volume, with the most controversial photography: children of different races playing and joining his hands. Source: Masey, Jack and Morgan, Conway Lloyd. Cold War Confrontations. Zürich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2008.

The reports on the strange appliance were forceful and began the modifications, closings and renovations that forced the own Lionni to demolish Brussels hurriedly. So many closing and openings did that ultimately nobody knew in The United States if the construction was opened or closed, since in I shrivel still critiques were coming, in spite of the fact that the image of the discord had been shrinking up to becoming insignificant, buried under the letters of an infantile song6. In the middle of the same month, three volumes sheltered new thematic contents, related to the health, the education and the well-being. The censorship was imposed this way in the place where just person was trying to show him the opposite: the freedom of the American mass media to generate a free debate7. According to the Belgian diaries of the epoch, the spectators could not avoid feel disturbed on having seen, how stepwise, the ignorance, the fear and the prejudices were aiming slashes at the innocence.

Silvia Blanco Agüeira, phD architect
Viveiro, juny 2015


1 Zevi, Bruno, “Bruxelles 1958: primi interrogative”, L’architettura, cronache e storia 31 (1958): 4.

2 Fisac, Miguel, “Exposición Universal de Bruselas”, Blanco y Negro, 2398 (1958).

3 Persitz, Alexandre, “Notes et Images”, Architecture D’Aujourd’hui 81 (1958): 94.

4 Los medios belgas lo rebautizaron como “Unfinished Work”.

5 Quek, Raymond; Deane, Darren y Butler, Sarah (eds.), Nationalism and Architecture (Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2012), 86.

6 “Ring Around the Rosie”.

7 Mallo, Álvaro; Blanco, Silvia and Carballo, Francisco: “Denostada Bx´58” (Conferencia impartida dentro del curso Secretos de la Arquitectura, Fundación Luis Seoane, A Coruña, 19 de mayo de 2014).

This text has been realized from the information compiled by the group ” BRXLLS ‘ 58 “, centred on the investigation on the pavilions that shaped the Universal Exhibition of Brussels of 1958. More information: grupo BRXLS58 o BRXLS58@groups.facebook.com

Silvia Blanco Agüeira

Silvia Blanco es una arquitecta gallega que se dedica a la teoría de la arquitectura. Cuenta con un gran número de publicaciones, ponencias, artículos científicos y comunicaciones que giran alrededor de tres ejes temáticos: el estudio de olvidados y notables ejemplos de la historia de la arquitectura; la puesta en valor del patrimonio arquitectónico del noroeste peninsular, en especial, el construido en la segunda mitad del siglo XX; y por último, la implementación de métodos de aprendizaje que fomenten el sentido crítico y la capacidad analítica del alumno.

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