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Philip Johnson received the commission for the Fair’s New York State Pavilion from Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1961. In an effort to flaunt the state’s status and demonstrate New York as the epicenter for American art and culture, Rockefeller asked Johnson to design the largest and tallest pavilion at the fair. Johnson worked with partner Richard Foster and structural engineer Lev Zetlin to design an innovative pavilion that would showcase contemporary architecture, art, and technology. Rather than being a single building intended for multiple uses, the New York State Pavilion consists of three main components, each designed to provide for a specific program. The three interrelated structures are the Tent of Tomorrow, the Astro View observation towers, and the circular Theaterama. Currently, the Astro View observation towers and the Tent of Tomorrow exist as dormant, neglected ruins in Flushing Meadows. Nearly 60 years after construction, only functionless fragments of the structures remain. Despite their condition, It is possible to piece together the 1964-65 pavilion from the architectural shards which inadvertently survived the fair. Today what is left of the New York State Pavilion stands as a piece of architectural ephemera; a relic that is preserved decades after its anticipated expiration date. Philip Johnson suggests the pavilion is more impressive and architecturally significant as a ruin than it was during the 1964 World’s Fair. Although the Pavilion symbolizes cultural optimism from the time in which it was conceived, it also acts as a haunting reminder of urban financial realities.

“The New York State Pavilion at the 1964-65 World’s Fair is now a ruin. In a way, the ruin is even more haunting than the original structure. There ought to be a university course in the pleasure of ruins.” “We always build for immortality, and from the very beginning, we felt this building should be permanent.”

- Philip Johnson 2



World’s Fairs reflect the popular culture of a society at a specific time. They are social events that cater to the imagination by exhibiting provocative art, architecture, technology, and design. The Fair had an uncanny ability to capture the attitude of Americans in 1964, making it unlike any other urban event. Time inside the New York World’s Fair froze when it closed in 1965, and the documentation and structure that remains can be looked upon as a time capsule. 4

Five years and a total of one billion dollars were spent transforming the city park into a square mile of pavilions, fountains, and gardens. The 1939 World’s Fair was also held at Flushing Meadows. Before then, the park was home to the Corona Ash Dump. The smoking landscape earned the name “the valley of the ashes,” in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, and in order to transform the area, Robert Moses was forced to relocate over 50 million cubic tons of garbage. 5

Flushing Meadows Park, occupies 1,255 acres between the Van Wyck Expressway and the Grand Central Parkway, stretching from Flushing Bay to Union Turnpike. Iconic remnants from the two fairs of 1939 and 1964 include the New York State Building, the Unisphere, the Hall of Science, and the New York State Pavilion.


The “Tent of Tomorrow” measures 350 feet by 250 feet, with sixteen 100-foot columns suspending a 50,000 sq. ft. roof of multi-colored panels. The popular exhibit for the state of New York also held three towers, measuring 60 feet, 150 feet, and 226 feet high. The two shorter towers held cafeterias for the fair, and the tallest tower, as the highest point of the fair, functioned as an observation deck. Fair visitors ascended the towers in the space-age “Sky Streak” capsule elevators. 7

In 1965, the World’s Fair Organization proposed retaining some of the fair structures. Many of the participating exhibitors defaulted on their security deposits, and the organization had no other choice than to assume responsibility for razing a large portion of the fair. The Mayor and Robert Moses ultimately were in favor of exempting the New York State pavilion--primarily because of how expensive it would be to demolish. It was �a natural tourist attraction,� said Moses. 8



Construction for the pavilion began in October 1962. One of the first steps in the construction process was to pile drive the foundation. Because the pavilion was only expected to last for two years, it was exempt from following standard building codes. Consequently, the wooden 80 ft. wood piles were not treated with creosote. In order to prevent rotting in permanent structures, it is critical to safeguard wood with creosote.


The pavilion included a display from the New York State Power Authority with a replica of the St. Lawrence hydroelectric plant. The pavilion’s mezzanine featured art from local artists and information about the state’s industries along a path called “Highways through New York.” The gallery showed pieces from the Hudson River School and portraits of New York State colonists. Over six million people visited the New York State Pavilion between 1964-65. 11

The pavilions have since been appropriated for a variety of purposes. After the fair, the tent was first used as a roller skating rink and later as a performance/venue space by the Council for International Recreation, Culture, and Lifelong Education. The Tent of Tomorrow hosted infamous artists such as the Grateful Dead and, Janis Joplin, and Who. Also, the saucer-shaped Astro-View Towers make an appearance in the film Men in Black. 12

From the top of the tallest observation tower, visitors were able to get a bird’s eye view of the fair in its entirety.


Although intended to be temporary events, fairs leave a lasting impression and material trace.



Many renovation plans for the Tent of Tomorrow have been proposed, including an air and space museum, however no concrete plans have been made for the decaying structure. As a result, the pavilion continues to fall into dispear and remainunused. The public is forbidden from visiting the pavilions due to safety hazards.




An oversized map of the state of New York, made up of 567 mosaic terrazzo panels each weighing 400 lbs., the floor. Rand McNally & Company helped to design and assemble the $1,000,000 map, which featured the 50,000 square miles of New York State in detail. The cities, towns, highways, roads, and Texaco stations were accurately mapped in the meticulous 9,000 square-foot map.


The Tent of Tomorrow received significant architectural praise for its cable hung roof, which was the largest in the world. The oval roof was assembled on the ground and raised into place. The roof was covered in brightly colored translucent plastic panels and resembled a stained glass window. The elliptical plan was larger than a football field. In 1965, Johnson received an “Honorable Mention� award for Excellence in Design by the New York Chapter of the AIA. 19

By 1976, the roof above the map became unstable, after pieces were blown onto the highway, the plastic canopy was removed. Unfortunately, as a result the Texaco map of New York State was exposed to extreme weather and it the speed at which it was deteriorating escalated. All that remains are now is a spider web of steel cables.


Inside the Tent of Tomorrow a gallery space exhibited paintings by New York based artists George Belllows, Edward Hopper, Frank Stella, Georgia O’Keefe, William de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Overall, the design of the structure was meant to be playful and welcoming, as is evidenced by its use of open-air design.


In order to make the concrete columns appear monolithic and jointless, they were slip formed concrete. Each of the 16 hallow columns reach a staggering height of 100 ft. Although the concrete columns are structurally sound, the roof panels were only engineered to last for 3-5 years and did not last long after the fair closed.


Thirteen Most Wanted Men was a highly controversial mural created by Andy Warhol in which he to replicated a 1962 booklet published by the New York Police Department showing mug shots of the wanted men. In spite of Warhol’s alternative idea to replace the mural with portraits of Robert Moses, the mural was painted over before the fair opened was opened to the public. Criminals were clearly unwanted at the fair.


The theater was used to show a 360-degree film about the state of New York, and the exterior of the Theaterama displayed by avant-garde artists. Johnson personally commissioned John Chamberlain, Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol to install paintings and murals on the outside of the theater. At the time these artists were relatively unknown and were considered controversial by the public. 24



Unfortunately, time has not been kind to the pavilion. Under the jurisdiction of the New York City Parks Department the site has lingered in obscurity and neglect for over 50 years. The steel structure has rusted considerably, the sky-streak elevators were dismantled due to precarious conditions and the terrazzo floor has been disintegrating from exposure and lack of maintenance.



Today these once seemingly futuristic structures offer a ghastly, pessimistic perspective into the financial hardships prevalent in a metropolis the size of New York City. Although the pavilions provide a unique lens through which we can study a specific time in cultural history, their accidental monumentality simultaneously suggests a misguided intention and lack of vision on behalf of planners and architects alike.


Efforts have been made to save the Pavilion by using it once again, and at least one of them has been successful. The Queens Theatre took over the circular Circarama adjacent to the towers in 1994 and continues to operate there. Theaterama was originally a single drum-shaped volume of reinforced concrete. Additions to the original structure were made in 1992-1993 and in 2008-2009.


The map of the state of New York, which was open to the public until sometime in the 1980’s, is almost completely destroyed. The elevator towers are severely rusted. One elevator sits smashed in the service well at the base of the towers, while the other has been suspended in mid-air for 30 years.



The design of the pavilion was applauded by the public and professions within the field of architecture. 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.”






The World Monument Fund’s Watch List included the New York State Pavilion in its 2008 list of 100 most endangered sites



The World Monument Fund’s Watch List included the New York State Pavilion in its 2008 list of 100 most endangered sites



In addition to the New York State Pavilion, two other structures remain on the park grounds from 1964. The Hall of Science is now a science museum and the Unisphere survives as a testimony to the attitude that pervaded the fair: “Peace through Understanding.�


Advanced Studio IV - New York State Pavilion timeline [GSAPP Spring 2013]  

Advanced Studio IV - New York State Pavilion timeline [GSAPP Spring 2013]

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