February 18, 1992: Fire destroys Expo ’92 building two months before opening

The fire of February 18, 1992. / ECE

The newly built Pavilion of Discoveries had been designed as one of the key elements of the Seville exhibition

Thirty years ago, the capital of Andalusia had the honor of hosting the Universal Exhibition. However, just two months before the inauguration, on February 18, one of the site’s key buildings caught fire.

The theme of the Expo in Seville was The Age of Discovery, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas.

Isla de la Cartuja (an island in the Guadalquivir River) was chosen to host pavilions where more than 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 (Pavilion of Discoveries).

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

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A fire broke out shortly before 2 p.m. It immediately spread throughout the building, which contained large amounts of cork, paint, wood, and expanded polystyrene, all highly combustible materials. Fifteen Seville firefighters quickly arrived on the scene, but the fire was violent and the structure of the building was transformed into a torch in a few minutes. The thick column of smoke was visible from almost everywhere in the city. All of the workers inside managed to get out without sustaining 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 crying helplessly.

The fire burned for more than three hours. Later, the organizers 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 burnt facade. In the end, the damaged pavilion was hidden by nearly 2,000 brightly painted ladders and 50 giant chimney sweeps.

Expo ’92 was held as scheduled from April 20 to October 12, 1992.

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