I find World’s Fairs absolutely fascinating. The sheer magnitude of millions of people traversing the globe to congregate in a completely concepted landscape filled with acres of pavilions, exhibitions and rides simply mesmerizes me. And no fair intrigues me more than that of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. Imagine, the era of space flight, computerization, high-tech travel, and teflon all put on display in one fantastic collection of futuristic americana. Where to begin? With Charles Eames of course.
Designed for IBM by Charles Eames and the architect Eero Saarinen Associates, The International Business Machine’s pavilion was one of the highlights of the ’64 Fair. At its epicenter was a 90 foot high ellipsoidal shaped theater emblazoned by 1,000 IBM logos on it’s suface. Below “the egg,” 500 visitors would climb aboard the “People Wall” a tiered metal grandstand that ascended hydrolically into the heart of the sphere where they were welcomed by a narrator suspended from a small circular platform.
Aptly named “Information Machine,” Charles Eames’ multimedia presentation in the main theater used 14 synchronized projectors and nine screens to explain how “both the human brain and the computer obtained sensory information, fed it to the brain (central processor), and through a program interpreted it to make some decision of what to do.”* A 1958 version of his film, on one screen unfortunately, can be watched here.
Below the theatre, visitors walked through a grove of 45, 32-foot-tall man made metal trees and a glass-topped canopy all atop a reflecting pool. In the surrounding pentagon theaters visitors could interact with a mainframe computer that would give them headlines from their chosen date in history (which was input with handwriting recognition software), a first interaction with a computer for many of the fairgoers. A Probability Machine displayed showed the concept of averages, and puppet shows encouraged visitors to believe that computers were friendly, logical devices.
The challenge of sharing the potential of computers with a virgin audience, of fostering imagination and a simple understanding of the immense potential of “computing machines,” must have been daunting for Charles Eames and the architects at Eero Saarinen Associates. Their supremely simple treatment of IBM’s acreage blends organic and futuristic elements to suggest that technology truly is an extension of man’s organic logic. In a time where countless collectors covet Eames dining chairs and chaise lounges, this designer finds herself searching for a time machine.