Oculus - Winter 2015 - (Page 37)

©Courtesy Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates 51-year watch IBM Pavilion One of America's foremost innovators, IBM chose to represent itself at the 1964 World's Fair with typewriter technology B Y J o h n m o r r i s d i x o n , fAiA A Reinventing Architecture: Design in a Digital World Editor's note: Saarinen passed away in 1961, before the design of the pavilion began. While the firm Eero Saarinen & Associates was the architect, the design was by Kevin Roche, FAIA, partner in that firm, who went on to co-found Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates. John Morris Dixon, FAIA, left the drafting board for journalism in 1960 and was editor of Progressive Architecture from 1972 to 1996. He continues to write for a number of publications, and he received AIANY's 2011 Stephen A. Kliment Oculus Award for Excellence in Journalism. ©Courtesy Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates half century ago, IBM was at the forefront of computer technology. But what was the design inspiration for its pavilion at the New York World's Fair of 1964? It was the "type ball" of the Selectric typewriter - a technologically advanced typewriter for its time, but still just a typewriter. IBM was then known as an outstanding patron of Modern architecture and design. With a building and product design program directed by architect and industrial designer Eliot Noyes, it was building factories, laboratories, and offices designed by the likes of Marcel Breuer, Gordon Bunshaft, and Eero Saarinen. For the fair pavilion, it commissioned the firm of Eero Saarinen & Associates with designers Charles and Ray Eames. At ground level, the pavilion provided ample space for open-air exhibits. Sheltering these was a canopy of tinted Plexiglass supported on 45 treelike weathering-steel supports. Rising above this artificial grove and dominating the scene was the elliptical sphere of the theater - 115 feet long, 89 feet wide, 58 feet in height. It might have been possible to interpret the theater as an exercise in spherical geometry, but for those of us who spent hours clicking our handsome, Eliot Noyes-designed Selectrics - or even saw an ad for it - the reference was obvious. And like the rotating typewriter ball, its spherical surface was covered with letters in bold relief - in this case endlessly repeating "IBM" in the style of its trademark. Fairgoers were invited to take their places at ground level on a 500-seat grandstand, which then rose 53 feet into the theater volume. An emcee in white tie and tails appeared on a suspended platform, greeting audience members as they rose and bidding them farewell as they returned to Earth. Inside the theater, IBM offered an Eames creation, an entertaining 14-screen slide and film presentation on computer technology. Most design cognoscenti of the time considered this pavilion one of the fair's few successes. New York Times critic Ada Louise Huxtable said it "proves that the corporate message can be put across as an integrated architectural-design concept." In Progressive Architecture magazine, Ellen Perry and James Burns wrote that it was "one of the few pavilions that didn't lay an egg. See it, THINK, and marvel at the mind of man and his machines." The praise was not unanimous, however. Washington Post architecture writer Wolf von Eckardt decided the work "doesn't come off as anything but another bit of architectural acrobatics," which, he concluded, "doesn't help but hinders IBM's efforts to communicate its story." We may never know whether the enticement of advanced design and exhibition technique at such fairs helps to convey knowledge - in this case knowledge that is even now unfathomable to most of the public. Maybe that's why IBM chose to announce its presence with an architectural form derived from an already familiar consumer product. Winter 2015 Oculus 37

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Winter 2015

First Words Letter from Two Presidents
Letter from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
Opener: Practical Attitudes
ICE in the River: Cornell Tech’s Center of Connectivity
Restoring – At Least Virtually – One of England’s Greatest Lost Buildings
At the Corner of Past and Present
The Design-Fabrication Dynamic
How Big Data is Reshaping Architecture
Architecture at the Digital Edge
3D for the Defense
Thinking Beyond the Flat Page
In Print
51-Year Watch
Last Words
Index to Advertisers

Oculus - Winter 2015