National exhibitions

Every 25 years or so, Switzerland mounts a large-scale national exhibition. The last one – Expo.02 in 2002 – was spread over four sites around the lakes of Neuchâtel, Biel and Murten. These four sites, called Arteplages, evoked the themes of openness and the environment.

A monolith of rusted metal on the surface of Lake Murten.
A huge monolith of rusted metal on Lake Murten: Jean Nouvel's Expo.02 sculpture. © Nüssli (Schweiz) AG

Every 25 years or so, Switzerland organises a national exhibition, with the aim of offering a snapshot of prevailing culture, politics and the Swiss economy. The first national exhibition was held in 1883 in Zurich. Its central theme was the importance of school and education for economic growth.

The Landi of 1939 in Zurich

The Swiss army dominated the three subsequent exhibitions (1896 in Geneva, 1914 in Bern and 1939 in Zurich), reflecting a desire by the country to demonstrate its independence. The Landi of 1939, in particular, was largely the product of the prevailing 'spiritual defence of the nation' policy. In the past, these exhibitions had tended to present life in rural Switzerland in contrast to the hustle and bustle of industrial towns. For example, at the 1939 exhibition, a life-sized Swiss village, the Landi-Dörfli, was built on the shores of Lake Zurich.

Expo 64 in Lausanne

The 1964 national exhibition in Lausanne presented a futuristic vision of the country via the Gulliver Project, which involved a computer delivering the latest results of a visitor survey on major current affairs issues in real time. Held at the height of the Cold War, the 1964 Expo showcased Swiss values. For example, the Armed Forces' pavilion was in the shape of a giant hedgehog. 

Expo.02 – the exhibition in the Three Lakes Region

The sixth national exhibition – Expo.02 – was held in 2002 and was spread over four sites, called Arteplages, on the lakes of Neuchâtel, Biel and Murten (in the towns of Biel, Neuchâtel, Yverdon-les-Bains and Murten). Expo.02 sought to promote the image of Switzerland as an open and forward-looking nation with a concern for its environmental integrity. Its main theme was water and Switzerland's commitment to securing peace abroad. 

So what about the next national exhibition?

The federal government and the cantons are in favour of initiatives to hold a new national exhibition. Because of the current cost-cutting measures, however, financial support is not a realistic prospect before 2030 at the earliest. Although the date of the next national exhibition is not yet known, multiple applications have been submitted for a broad range of projects.