New York State Pavilion
Governor Nelson Rockefeller commissioned Philip Johnson to design the New York State Pavilion for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair after Johnson received critical acclaim for his design of the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center.
Philip Johnson was originally commissioned to design only two structures for the pavilion site: the “Tent of Tomorrow,” which was to serve as a fashion theater, and the “Theaterama,” a circular theater to display 360-degree movies. While in the midst of designing these two structures, Governor Nelson Rockefeller decided that he wanted New York State, the host state for the World’s Fair, to have the tallest building at the fair. After a long debate between Governor Rockefeller and Robert Moses, the fair’s corporate president, who had set a height rule for the fair and was initially against making the New York State Pavilion the event’s tallest structure. Rockefeller convinced the State to fund the addition of three observation towers to the pavilion site to tower over the other structures. This added $2.5 million to the cost of the New York State Pavilion project.
During the latter half of 1963, a decision was made to change the use of the Tent of Tomorrow. The original plan was to use the space as a fashion theater. However, plans changed during the design process and the Tent of Tomorrow was to be designed as an art exhibition space instead. The switch of use led to a change in design elements, and Philip Johnson had to incorporate air conditioning and a mezzanine into the structure in order to control the climate for the art.
The New York State Pavilion was meant to stand out and illustrate the accomplishments of the State of New York as the host of the World’s Fair and as a center for arts, culture, and recreation.
The pavilion site was divided into three sections, and occupied nearly all of its 129,392-square-foot site, the largest amount of square feet devoted to a state sponsored exhibit.
The Tent of Tomorrow, the assembly hall, was the main feature of the pavilion. It is elliptical in plan, stretching 250' x 350' and is supported by sixteen concrete pylons. The structure’s roof originally supported multicolored panels of Plexiglas that were suspended on cables attached to a steel roof rim. The floor of the Tent of Tomorrow had a Texaco map of all of New York State, which was the world’s largest terrazzo map at the time. The tent had exhibition space on the promenade and mezzanine levels, looking over the plastic map of the state.
The Theaterama, the lowest structure of the pavilion site, is a 100' diameter circular theater (sometimes referred to as the “Circarama”) and was used to project 360-degree films. Surrounding the pavilion’s theater’s fa?ade, there were large art installations by famous pop artists on display. Featured artists included: Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Liberman, Robert Indiana, James Rosenquist, John Chamberlain, Robert Mallary, Peter Agostini, Robert Rauschenberg, Ellsworth Kelly and Andy Warhol.
The northernmost portion of the site features a grouping of three circular observation towers that are 90, 185, and 250' tall. Slender concrete columns support the circular, 64'-in-diameter observation platforms, as well as exterior, glass-walled elevators that allowed access to the three structures. The shortest of the three towers housed restaurants, while the other two taller pavilions had open observation decks. The two shorter towers have single-story platforms while the tallest tower has a two-story platform.
Slip-formed concrete, cable suspension roof
The 1964-1965 World’s Fair was dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” and its theme was “Peace Through Understanding.” It was the largest fair ever held in the United States. Robert Moses, then New York City Parks Commissioner, was the corporate president of the fair and took on the project in hopes that its income would support the completion of Flushing Meadows Park. In order to cut costs for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, Moses reused the master plan, infrastructure, and roads from the 1939 World’s Fair that was also held in Flushing Meadows Park.
The Tent of Tomorrow featured the largest suspension roof in the world at the time, measuring over 50,000 square feet. The roof, which had two outer ring girders and a central tension ring tied together with forty-eight double sets of cables, was lifted into position at the rate of six feet per day by thirty-two synchronized jacks.
While the suspension roof was not a new concept at the time, the Tent of Tomorrow’s roof was an early example of this type of roof’s ability to overcome instability in high winds, something that had just recently been developed by engineers.
The New York State Pavilion was also technically innovative with its use of slip-formed concrete. For Theaterama’s construction, concrete was poured around steel reinforcement and the forms, which were dimensionally 3 feet high and 12 feet in diameter, were raised at the rate of one foot per hour. As concrete was poured at the top of the form, concrete at the bottom of the form was already three hours old and set. For the observation towers, contractors used 3-foot-high slip-forms to pour the concrete and moved at a rate of about 1 foot per hour.
The Fiberglas panels were installed while this process was happening. Approximately 1,500 multicolored translucent panels, attached to each other with a weathertight batten system, were used in the construction of the roof. The translucent Fiberglas panels were placed into an aluminum grid that was fabricated by Kalwall Corporation and fit over the strung cables.
By commissioning Philip Johnson, one of the architects of the Lincoln Center Complex, Governor Rockefeller wanted to showcase New York State as a center for arts and culture, as well as a home for great Modern architecture.
By using concrete and metal to create enormous pavilions with round and elliptical plans, Johnson was developing futuristic forms by subtly referencing flying saucers. Overall, the design of the structure was meant to be playful and welcoming, as is evidenced by its use of bright colors and open-air design.
The New York State Pavilion was considered by Franz Schulze, author of Philip Johnson: Life and Work, as one of Philip Johnson’s “zanier” designs and considered it “unlike any other work he [Philip Johnson] did at the time.” The pavilion’s enormous concrete columns in the Tent of Tomorrow can be seen as a precursor to the type of monumentality used in Philip Johnson’s later work.
The design of the pavilion was critically acclaimed. Ada Louise Huxtable, then architecture critic for the New York Times, described the pavilion as a, "runaway success...a sophisticated frivolity...seriously and beautifully constructed. This is 'carnival' with class."
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