The fire on 18 February 1992. / EFE

18 February 1992: Fire ruins Expo '92 building two months ahead of opening

The newly constructed Discoveries Pavilion had been intended as one of the key features of the Seville exhibition

ALEKK M. SAANDERS

Thirty years ago, the capital of Andalucía had the honour of hosting the universal exposition. Just two months before the grand opening, however, on 18 February, one of the site’s key buildings went up in flames.

The theme for Seville’s Expo was The Age of Discovery, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus reaching the Americas.

The Isla de la Cartuja (an island in the River Guadalquivir) was chosen as the venue for pavilions where over 100 countries were represented. In addition to the Royal Pavilion, there were five themed buildings, the star of which was the Pabellón de los Descubrimientos (the Discoveries Pavilion).

Designed by the architects Javier Feduchi and Alfredo Lozano, the building was already finished. The parallelepiped construction with a rectangular base (126 by 66 metres), was divided into eight square modules. On that fateful Tuesday 18 February it still needed finishing touches to its interior and the Copernican armillary sphere, one of the highlights of the building, was being painted.

SUR

Fire broke out shortly before 2pm. It immediately spread throughout the building, which contained large quantities of cork, paint, wood and expanded polystyrene, all highly combustible materials. Fifteen units of the Seville fire brigade were quickly on the scene but the fire was fierce and the building’s structure became a burning torch in minutes. The thick column of smoke could be seen from practically everywhere in the city. All the workers inside managed to leave without suffering serious injuries, although the last two were evacuated by ambulance with symptoms of smoke inhalation. More than a thousand workers gathered around the burning building, many of them weeping with helplessness.

The fire burned for more than three hours. Later, the organisers confirmed that the pavilion had been destroyed and would not be in the exhibition.

Artist Eduardo Arroyo was commissioned to create a cover for the burned façade. In the end the damaged pavilion was concealed by nearly 2,000 colourfully painted ladders and 50 giant chimney sweeps.

Expo ‘92 took place as planned from 20 April to 12 October, 1992.

SUR