Model interiors and model homes were a recurring element at the world fairs of the previous century. At Expo 58, the Brussels World Fair of 1958, these forms of presentation were also a common feature. Various participating nations saw the model interior or the model home as a powerful didactic instrument with which to draw attention to the idea of successful post-war reconstruction, a new national identity or a promising future. Model homes offered an accessible formula, instantly recognizable across national borders and extremely suited to the synthesis of industry and culture.1At the same time the model home was a rewarding formula for participants with a more commercial purpose. Within the Belgian Section,2 especially, contributions such as the pavilion of the Buildings and Dwellings group or that of the furniture company Vanderborght provided an overview of what the Belgian market had to offer – or might be offering in the future.3 As well as giving expression to progress, these model homes and interiors often appeared to be referring explicitly to the overall theme of the world fair: ‘A balance sheet for a more humane world.’ A good or comfortably furnished home was a basic need, the social importance of which had been brought into sharp focus since the horrors of the Second World War.4
The model homes and interiors at Expo 58 were extremely wide-ranging, not least because of the diversity of the participating nations and businesses and their different visions of ‘modern’ or ‘better’ living. Besides, by the end of the 1950s the model interior was familiar to the general public, which had become acquainted with the national promotion of ‘new’ and ‘good’ living during the post-war years. Expo 58 gave designers the opportunity to deploy this tried and tested exhibition formula in a range of different, often subtle and innovative ways, stretching from realistic, full-scale models to fictitious or evocative settings in which furniture and other furnishings played a significant role. This article sheds light on the rich palette of model homes and interiors at Expo 58, and reflects on examples that pushed the medium’s boundaries…
- We would like to thank architectural engineers Iris Bauwens and Céline Goessaert for their archival research into the model homes in the German, French and Dutch pavilions. They wrote
a Master’s thesis about these model homes: Iris Bauwens and Céline Goessaert, Modelwoningen op Expo 58. Drie cases: de Nederlandse, Duitse en Franse paviljoenen (Ghent University, Master’s thesis, 2006). They subsequently published an article based on their thesis: Iris Bauwens and Céline Goessaert, ‘Modelwoningen op Expo 58. Drie cases: de Nederlandse, Duitse en Franse paviljoenen’, Gentse Bijdragen tot de Interieurgeschiedenis, no. 36 (2009), 87-107.
- The world fair was divided into different sections based on the nature and origin of the exhibitors. They included a Belgian, Foreign, Colonial, Commercial and Global Section. Inside the pavilions, the exhibition was organized in ‘groups’ encompassing the different aspects of society. Each group was divided into different ‘classes’. With its encyclopaedic approach, Expo 58 fits
into the nineteenth-century exhibition tradition.
- Fredie Floré and Mil De Kooning, ‘The Representation of Modern Domesticity in the Belgian Section of the Brussels World’s Fair of 1958’, Journal of Design History, no. 4 (2003), 319-340.
- Paul Betts and David Crowley, ‘Introduction’, Journal of Contemporary History, no. 2 (2005), 213-236.