George Nelson’s 1964 Pop Art pavilion

For the 1964 – 1965 New York World’s Fair the Chrysler Corporation commissioned the industrial- and architectural designer George Nelson to design it’s display. Nelson tried a touch of humor, turning auto parts into a surreal gigantic playground. This was after all the age of pop-art: over-dimensioned and colorful objects were becoming a new visual language both in art and design. Another example of Pop Art sensibility at the fair was a giant tire-shaped Ferris wheel, an 80-foot-tall pop concept worthy of Claes Oldenburg. The fair showcased many pavilions representing countries and states, displaying their cultural, economic and social phenomena. This was also the age of the cold war. The Fair’s theme ‘Peace through understanding’ subtly hints at political tensions during the era. Yet, the most memorable pavilions were built by the giants of American industry. The Chrysler pavilion may have offered the most popular display. Among the attractions on five islands, linked by bridges in an artificial lake, were a puppet show and an airborne ride over a simulated assembly line. A working engine walk-through and a zoo of noisy animals made out of auto parts. A car factory-belt transported faux new cars through the air, to be examined from below by the amused audience. These designs were not only fun, but even impressed the critics.

The exhibits took guests backward and forward in time, suggesting how marvelous everyday life would be through the use of their products.

Many of the techniques used in these shows set the standard for future fairs and theme parks. The pavilions that housed them remain the most elaborate structures ever built for an American fair. For instance, The Walt Disney Company designed a pavilion for Pepsi Cola. Today, it still exists: Disneyland’s ‘It’s a small world’ darkride (largely designed by the illustrator Mary Blair) was rolled out through all Disney parks from Tokyo to Paris. As for the George Nelson, (an unconventional and tastefully noncommercial designer), exhibition design remained an important part of the work 1960’s and the 1970’s, as it did for Charles and Ray Eames. It’s interesting to think about this today, where Nelson and Eames have gained status as design icons, that once upon a time, their ideas where alive within the context of trade fairs and even touching upon theme park design.