An expo is an expo is an expo is an expo. It cannot be judged like conventional construction; its success or failure lie elsewhere. To begin with, an expo is an urban project that transforms a city with exceptional investments justified by the event; the most important things occur outside the site, and its best legacy are the new infrastructures – bridges, highways, stations or airports. Furthermore, an expo is an architectural laboratory that pursues technical and aesthetic innovation rather than consistency ; some permanent and many ephemeral, the assortment of structures puts to the test the feasibility of the site as an urban fragment. Lastly, an expo is a collective debate and a popular party that aims at publicizing major social themes in a playful way; the pavilions are stages of symbolic competition between political or economic actors that propose their priorities to the swarm of visitors. At the threshold of its opening, and in these three chapters, Zaragoza deserves an A- in urban planning, a B+ in architecture and a question mark in entertainment.
As regards infrastructures, the high-speed train, the new airport and the improvement of the roads have stressed the geographic centrality of the city, at the intersection of the Madrid-Barcelona axis with the one between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, at the heart of the wealthier Spain. Moreover, putting most of the pavilions under the same roof has limited innovation, also restricted by the predictable programs of excellent works like the Expo offices or the Congress Center, so the experimental attitude – excluding the small ephemeral structures – is reduced to the Water Tower, the Aragón Pavilion and, above all, to the uncanny Bridge Pavilion and the extraordinary Spanish Pavilion, a ceramic forest that rescues the event. To close, and pending the final evaluation, the motto chosen as guiding thread of exhibitions and events – water and sustainable development – seems a timely one, but it is not sure that its didactic content will be able to provide the entertainment that these temporary amusement parks must always offer.
A century after the Hispanic-French Exhibition, Zaragoza has eluded its historical protagonism in the war started in 1808 to center on a pressing issue, the management of the planet’s resources, focusing on water as suits its paradoxical condition of being both the largest city bathed by Spain’s biggest river and the capital of a dry region, dotted with deserts, where water is regenerationist dream, unredeeming emotion and core of contemporary politics. Leaving to Madrid and the Prado’s Goyas the debate on the nation and its metaphors, indifferent to the renewed polemics between absolutists and liberals, and deaf also to the discussion about whether the war with the French that the British call Peninsular War was one of the revolutions that shook America and Europe circa 1800, Zaragoza celebrates its bicentennial with a liquid fiesta – between two Asian events, Aichi 2005 and Shanghai 2010 –, which brings together the pressures of a globe where millions lack drinking water and the demands of a dry land that has turned water into its physical and sentimental treasure.