The National Trust for Historic Preservation has launched an open ideas competition to restore Philip Johnson’s iconic New York State Pavilion (Deadline: 1 July)
Backed by non-profit organisation People for the Pavilion, and Queens Borough president Melinda Katz, the ‘anything goes’ contest seeks radical ideas to reinvent the decaying landmark.
Built for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the steel and reinforced concrete structure within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens has been closed to the public for decades.
According to the brief: ‘How do you reinvent an architectural icon for the 21st century? How can you inspire people to see potential in a structure that has been off limits for decades? And how do you activate a public space in a way that is sustainable for future generations?
‘The National Trust and People for the Pavilion invite you to do just that by envisioning a bold and optimistic future for the New York State Pavilion.’
Held amid the tense backdrop of the Cold War and space race, the world’s fair – themed ‘Peace Through Understanding’ – was dedicated to ‘Man’s Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe’.
Prior to the fair, the area was a wasteground known as the Corona Ash Dumps and characterised as the ‘valley of ashes’ in F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
Intended as a permanent structure, Johnson’s futuristic pavilion featured an elliptical ‘Tent of Tomorrow’ – featuring the largest cable suspension roof of its time – and three observation towers ranging in height from 69 to 26 metres.
A nearby drum-shaped theatre – known as the Theaterama – was also part of the installation, and is now home to the Queens Theatre.
Following the fair, the tent was used as a concert venue and rollerskating rink before falling into disuse. Successive attempts to rescue the entire pavilion – which also featured in the final scenes of Men in Black – floundered, although last year an apprenticeship project saw parts of the building repainted.
Other surviving landmarks from the world’s fair include the spherical stainless steel ‘Unisphere’ – designed by landscape architect Gilmore D Clarke and restored by Rogers Partners Architects six years ago.
The ideas contest is open to all applicants over the age of 13, and there is no limit on the number or scope of submissions.
Judges include Deborah Berke, founder of Deborah Berke Partners, Vanity Fair contributing editor Paul Goldberger and Queens Museum president Laura Raicovich.
A poll on all submitted proposals will be held and the winner of the public vote will receive a $500 prize on 18 July.
Proposals so far uploaded to the competition website include a planetarium, a mirrored roof and exhibition space, a botanical garden, a cheeseburger museum and a hydroponic community garden.
The judges’ choice of winning team – set to be announced on 3 August – will receive $3,000, and a second-place prize of $1,000 and third-place prize worth $500 will also be awarded.
Proposals will feature in an exhibition inside the Queens Museum following the announcement of the winners.
How to apply
Deadline for submissions: 1 July
Source: Jordan L Smith The Pie Shops Collection
Q+A with People for the Pavilion co-founder Salmaan Khan
How could an ideas contest, such as this one, help save the structure?
Our goal for this competition is to raise awareness for the New York State Pavilion and the bright promise of its future. A Philip Johnson-designed masterpiece, the Pavilion was the shining star of the 1964-5 World’s Fair. Through this open call for ideas, we hope to illustrate to local stakeholders the widespread support for its restoration and reuse.
What qualities make the New York State Pavilion an ideal candidate for alternative uses?
Unlike most World’s Fair structures that were built to be temporary, the pavilion was always intended to function as a cultural space. And for decades after the fair, that’s exactly what it was – a flexible venue that could accommodate anything from rollerskating to Led Zeppelin concerts. Fast forward to today, and it remains just as attractive and appealing to the local community.
What similar conversion or restoration projects are you impressed by?
From the Eiffel Tower in Paris to the Space Needle in Seattle, World’s Fair relics have been saved – and are now celebrated – in cities across the world. The pavilion has the same potential – it’s a natural tourist attraction that can inspire and delight future generations just as it did in its heyday.
Atomium case study: Q&A with Christine Conix
The chief executive of CONIX RDBM Architects discusses the lessons she learned restoring the Atomium in Brussels
How do you extend the lifespan of a landmark structure originally designed only as a temporary pavilion?
The Belgian pavilion, better known as the Atomium, was designed by engineer André Waterkeyn. His bold idea of building a giant, walk-in sculpture of an iron atom, enlarged 165 billion times was intended as a homage to the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the flourishing Belgian steel industry.
The Atomium was originally designed as a temporary construction, intended to stand only for the six-month duration of the Expo ’58 fair. At the end of the fair, however, it was decided to keep the structure as a monument to the beauty of technology and the fascinating discoveries of science, while most of the pavilions were demolished.
The decision whether or not to keep a world’s fair pavilion says a lot. It shows some kind of willingness to integrate it into our daily lives. When we do decide to keep it, it should not be modified; on the contrary, it should be restored to its former glory. This was also the basic idea of CONIX RDBM.
Source: vzw Atomium
The aim of this renovation project was to enhance and underline its contemporary ambitions. The renovated iron molecule is a shining example of how a new ‘skin’ has rejuvenated every sphere. This rejuvenation had to be reflected in the internal spaces as well, to bring back the Atomium’s bygone charm. By studying the original documents and plans, CONIX RDBM pinpointed the purity of the spheres’ design and recreated the atmosphere it had to evoke. This was done in the least intrusive way possible: covering the interior with galvanised steel and the exterior with stainless steel.
We enlarged the site by transforming the existing roundabout into a large square, offering visitors the chance to admire the Atomium from underneath and view it from different angles. This new esplanade follows the natural slope of the Boulevard du Centenaire and offers the visitor a new experience when entering the site.
The ‘galette’ was completely emptied out and opened up, so we designed a new pavilion at the base of the monument. Skilfully integrated into its surroundings, it adds an extra dimension to this exciting landmark construction. It welcomes, orientates, links and sets the scene. The pavilion nowadays houses the ticket desk, the shop, public sanitary facilities and several service rooms.
The same goes for the interior. Less is more and significant interventions were kept to a minimum. Great care was taken to retain the 1950s design. Original documents were consulted in an effort to return to the former purity of the design, and to regain and express the authentic atmosphere. The load-bearing frame, painted in muted grey, is not hidden behind cladding.
Source: vzw Atomium
What challenges did you face adapting an iconic and highly recognisable building such as this to meet modern requirements?
Over time the aluminium skin lost its sheen, steel components began to rust and joints started leaking. The wrong cleaning materials, a lack of corrosion protection and damaging environmental influences such as air pollution, pigeon droppings and storms hastened its deterioration. A new skin had to be ‘installed’.
Designing and fitting the spheres’ new skin presented a specific challenge to the engineers and contractors. The overall look of the structure and its original segmentation were to remain unchanged. Forty-eight large triangular panels, instead of the 720 which had been used in 1958, were prefabricated for each sphere. The 48 triangular panels of each sphere were divided into 15 smaller ones by false joints to create the same look as the original cladding. When installed, the lines between the triangular sandwich panels form meridians, which wrap around the spheres.
The original aluminium panels were removed and the steel frame of the Atomium was sandblasted and painted, with over 50,000 square metres of steel to treat. The old panels were for sale to sponsor the renovation. The spacing between the skin and the load-bearing steel frame needed to be maintained. Nevertheless, the renovated structure would have to meet rigid contemporary standards of thermal, sound and fire insulation.
Eventually the fitting of the new cladding could start. To dispense with any complicated scaffolding, the panels for the upper halves of the spheres were hoisted into place by means of cranes; those for the lower halves were brought into position using cables. Each triangular panel has a surface area of approximately 16 square metres and weighs about 480kg. Teams of workers, suspended on ropes, attached the panels to the steel frame.
Source: vzw Atomium
What would be the best option to save the New York State Pavilion?
Just as the Atomium, the New York State Pavilion should be used as a reminder of the 1964-5 World’s Fair. It’s part of the architectural and cultural heritage. It can good be an idea to ‘give the project to the people’. A lot of great things can happen when people from different fields come together and co-create. It’s a great place to organise events and concerts, for instance. In this way it can be reused without much interference.
After thorough investigation it could also be that the existing structures could be used for a new building or destination. Old and new coming together in one piece. Or, it can also be part of a newly built development adjacent to the pavilion.
Incidentally, the fact that the government is having trouble reusing the pavilion clearly shows the need for more durable pavilions in the future. They should be composed of a structure which is easy to build, disassemble and recycle. That’s what we did for the Belgium pavilion during the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010. The building was reused at another location for another purpose but with the same materials.
Source: Motohiko Tokuriki