in 1964, new york hosted the world’s fair — an event that served as a showcase for mid-century american culture and technology. taking place on a sprawling 646-acre site at flushing meadows-corona park in queens, the fair was dedicated to ‘man’s achievement on a shrinking globe in an expanding universe’. many of the pavilions on view were built in a mid-century modern style that was influenced by ‘googie’ architecture, a design style informed by car culture, jets, and the space age. many large corporations also chose to participate, with companies such as SC johnson and IBM joining automotive giants ford and chrysler in presenting their vision for the future.
with expo 2020 readying to open in dubai later this year, designboom takes a closer look at the 1964 edition, which took place under the theme ‘peace through understanding’. read more about the fair, and some of its most eye-catching pavilions, below.
the johnson wax pavilion | image courtesy of SC johnson
the johnson pavilion comprised soaring white arches and a giant gold disk, which appeared to float above the ground. the structure was conceived by herbert fisk johnson jr. — the company’s third-generation company leader — as a ‘totally unique pavilion’. johnson jr. commissioned lippincott & margulies, the firm that created the company’s ‘double diamond’ symbol, to design the building with a 500-seat theater. this would invite visitors to watch ‘to be alive’, an 18-minute color movie produced by francis thompson that showed the daily lives of people around the world.
the IBM pavilion | image courtesy of IBM
the IBM pavilion was designed by charles and ray eames and eero saarinen. the pavilion appeared as a covered garden, with all exhibits contained beneath a ‘grove’ of steel ‘trees’. the egg-shaped structure sitting atop the grove hosted a theater within which visitors watched ‘think’ — a film by charles and ray eames that explored problem-solving techniques for issues both commonplace and complex — from organizing the seating chart for a dinner party, to city planning.
the IBM pavilion | video courtesy of eames office
shaped and styled in the form of an enormous typewriter carriage, a 12-tier ‘people wall’ — shown in the video above — lifted 500 visitors at a time up inside the theater to watch the show, which made use of 14 synchronized projectors and nine screens. below the ovoid theater, the eames office created a range of activities to introduce IBM’s latest products.
with a diameter of 80 feet (24.4 m), the uniroyal ‘giant tire’ is believed to be the largest non-production tire scale model ever built. at the 1964 world’s fair, the tire functioned as a ferris wheel with a total of 24 gondolas each carrying four people. today, the structure is located in michigan, alongside interstate 94.
designed by architects philip johnson and richard foster, with structural engineer lev zetlin, the new york state pavilion was one of the site’s most significant structures. according to people for the pavilion, a non-profit organization devoted to raising awareness of the historic value of the structure, johnson’s aim was to achieve ‘an unengaged free space as an example of the greatness of new york, rather than a warehouse full of exhibit material’.
the design consisted three elements: the main open-air structure known as the ‘tent of tomorrow’, three ‘astro-view’ observation towers, and a circular theater known as the ‘theaterama’. the tallest of the three towers stands at a height of 226 feet (69 meters) and contains two observation platforms. the new york state pavilion was designed to showcase the varied attractions that the state had to offer, from its natural scenery and wildlife to achievements in the fine and performing arts. the structure still exists today, although its future purpose remains up in the air.
the general electric pavilion contained an exhibit called ‘progressland’, which was produced by walt disney. the audience was seated in a revolving auditorium called the ‘carousel of progress’, where they viewed an audio-animatronic presentation that documented the evolving role of electricity within the home. following the world’s fair, the attraction was moved to disneyland in california before relocating again in 1975 to florida’s walt disney world resort. to keep it up to date, the attraction has been updated numerous times over the years.