Transformation of Exposition Space at an Urban Scale


  • Gonca Tuncbilek METU



International expositions began to gain popularity in late 19th century, particularly in Europe, and in time came to influence both architecture and urban planning, affecting their historical development. Expositions serve as a means of displaying architecture, particularly since industrialization, and have an influence that can transform their surrounding metropolitan areas in different ways. These influenced areas extend way beyond their own scales, and even if they no longer exist today, and have the potential to transform the urban space in which they are located. This study analyses the case of the Great Exhibition of 1851, in London, United Kingdom, which can be considered as the world’s first international event, and which played a significant role in the transformation of the Kensington site. Although the exhibition space itself was temporary, it transformed the Kensington site on which it was located at an urban scale. 

Even though these structures are time-limited projects, they transform the urban space where they are located. Here, the relationship between the exposition and the urban is associated with the raindrop analogies. Each raindrop will create its own circle when it reaches to an accumulation of water. The nature of the circle can be changed based on the size of the raindrops and different factors; in the case of expositions, the construction of the structure starts the process as a raindrop and creates its first circle. This circular effect occurs the bigger circles and reaches further distance at an urban scale, so this analogy gives the urban form even if the exposition has gone. This analogy is also valid for the urban transformation of the Kensington Site. This part of the London has changed following the reorganization and redesign after the exhibition was over, and the exposition space has developed into an integrated part of the city by taking on a set of additional functions, with the additional influence also of such neighbouring institutions as museums and later exhibition spaces. The site of the exposition has become a symbolic landscape of London and particularly the South Kensington has served as a great model to represent how international expositions can have a great contribution to change, transform and redesign the urban with a specific meaning: Exhibition.


Auerbach, Jeffrey. A. The Great Exhibition of 1851: A Nation on Display, London: Yale University Press, 1999.

Celik, Zeynep. Displaying the Orient: Architecture of Islam at Nineteenth-Century World’s Fair. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

Cuthbert, Alexander R. The Form of Cities: Political Economy and Urban Design. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2006.

Foucault, Michel. Of Other Spaces. in: Diacritics 16, 1986.

Gold, John Robert. Cities of Culture: Staging International Festivals and the Urban Agenda 1851-2000. Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2005.

Harvey, David. Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. Verso, New York and London, 2013.

Harvey, David. Spaces of Hope, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, 2000.

Hobsbawm, Eric. The Age of Capital. New York, 1979.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. (translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith). Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1974.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Urban Revolution. The University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 2003.

Lenger, Friedrich. European Cities in the Modern Era, 1850-1914. Justus-Liebig-University Gießen, The Netherlands, 2012.

Levin, Miriam L. “Dynamic Triad: City, Exposition, and Museum in Industrial Society,” Urban Modernity: Cultural Innovation in the Second Industrial Revolution. MIT Press, United States of America, 2010.

Orr, Kirsten. ‘Designing Sydney, 1879-1891: Visions of an Antipodean South Kensington’ in Journal of Australian Colonial History, Vol. 11.

Purbrick, Louise. The Great Exhibition of 1851: New Interdisciplinary Essays. Manchester University Press, UK, 2001.




How to Cite

Tuncbilek, G. (2016). Transformation of Exposition Space at an Urban Scale. International Planning History Society Proceedings, 17(6), 139–148.