18 September 2008

Virtual Visit to the Emerald City’s Inspiration

The Urban Simulation Team UCLA, formed "to explore the diverse applications for real-time visual simulation in design, urban planning, emergency response, and education," is showing off its methods and technology by creating an incredible visual simulation of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. The head of this project is Lisa M. Snyder.

L. Frank Baum and his family visited this fair several times when they moved to Chicago, and most scholars think that its White City inspired Baum's Emerald City a few years later. As we recall from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Wizard's capital is actually white, but it looks emerald-green because everybody must wear green spectacles, ostensibly to shield their eyes from the glare of jewels.

Moving through the recreated Chicago exposition cinematically might therefore be the closest we can get now to understanding Baum's vision, or visiting the Emerald City ourselves. The visual connections seem especially strong to me because:

  • John R. Neill's illustrations of the Emerald City reflect turn-of-the-century taste in monumental architecture, and thus have a lot of similarities with the exposition's buildings.
  • The simulation's bright color palette brings to mind how Baum divided the countries of Oz by color. (In contrast, most real images of the exposition are black and white photographs, which show off the buildings' whiteness but give little sense of Frederick Law Olmsted's landscaping.)
  • There's even a balloon hovering in the background of the boatride through the lagoon.
The virtual Chicago Exposition is best visited with a fast internet connection, of course.

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