All's Fair in Seville

A splashy Expo '92 opens this week with a focus on both past and future. The best buildings don't include one from the U.S.

FOR ALL THEIR POLYVINYL sheen and electronic gadgetry and spiffy biomorphic shapes, world's fairs are 19th century spectacles. They are celebrations of human (or, anyhow, bourgeois capitalist) confidence, of mechanical ingenuity, of rationality, of progress. The first was staged in London's Crystal Palace in 1851, just as the 19th century was really becoming the 19th century. At the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, Edison exhibited his phonograph, Bell his telephone and Underwood his typewriter.

The 20th century has amply demonstrated machines' nightmare side and thus tended to extinguish that kind of proud, dizzy, uncomplicated hubris. Its last full flowering was a...

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