As the nation was gripped with the Great Depression, the world’s fairs held in six cities across the United States promised a better future for the country replete with cool modern design and technological advances. Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s, a first-of-its-kind exhibit, will open Saturday at the National Building Museum and highlight the impact the fairs had on introducing modernism to the country.
“Participating architects, eager for new projects at a time when few new buildings were being financed, populated the fairgrounds with an eclectic modern architecture,” the museum says in a description of the exhibit, which runs until July 10, 2011. “Pavilions housed innovative and dynamic exhibitions that paid tribute to factory production, technology, and speed. Exhibits forecasted the houses and cities of tomorrow and presented streamlined trains, modern furnishings, television, and talking robots.”
One of the most popular exhibits/ride, was Futurama in the General Motors Building at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Architect Albert Kahn and designer Norman Bel Geddes created a 35,000 square-foot of model of a city and its countryside in 1960. Visitors experienced a guided ride/ tour into the future.
In conjunction with the exhibit, the Art Deco Society of Washington (ADSW) is holding a weekend of events and working on raising money to restore the Belgian Friendship Pavilion that was built for the 1939 fair in New York. “One of only two major structures from the fair that survive, it is the only building in the United States designed by famed Belgian modernist architect Henry Van de Velde,” says Jim Linz, the president of ADSW. “The building was donated to Virginia Union University in Richmond following the close of the world’s fair.”
The ADSW events and resources and the museum’s exhibit look like excellent opportunities to learn more about the visionaries and their ideas that helped bring the United States into the modern age.