The New York State Pavilion Is Not Temporary And It Is

by Don Friedman on May 9, 2017

Via Purpleturtle52-KH:

The 1964 Worlds Fair in Flushing Meadows Park contained some peculiar, if iconic structures. The ones that remain include the Unisphere, a see-though skeletal globe; the Hall of Science, an undulating curtain of concrete; and the New York State Pavilion, which defies easy description. Officially it consists of the Tent of Tomorrow and the Observation Towers, but the tent doesn’t look anything like a tent and the towers famously look like flying saucers.

The pavilion was still accessible when I was a kid, but has been closed to the public for a long time. It has simply been sitting there, deteriorating, with the occasional loss (the removal of the roof panels of the tent) and the occasional gain (some restoration work a few years ago). It’s now scheduled for some large-scale restoration work.

Fair structures are a fascinating study in what “temporary” means. The Eiffel Tower was supposed to be a temporary structure with a 20-year life but it’s still going strong. The London Crystal Palace was disassembled, moved, reassembled in a new configuration, and then burned down when it was some 80 years old. The New York Crystal Palace barely made it five years before it burned down. The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco was demolished and rebuilt in stronger materials. The original Ferris Wheel was taken down at the end of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, but it spawned a whole new type of attraction that is with us to this day.

The common theme is that all of these structures are visual and social icons. They were and are not particularly practical buildings but that statement completely misses the point: they were built to create a visual impression, not to be useful. Their success or failure is representative of how well they made those impressions. The New York State Pavilion did not come to represent New York the way the Eiffel Tower did Paris – it’s too small relative to the skyscrapers that we’re used to, and Flushing is too far from the city center – but it is famous. It is an icon, however strange, and as such should be saved.

All buildings are temporary. The only question is how long we keep repairing them.

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