Unlike preceding world's fairs, which presented technological innovations, arts, crafts, cultural diversity and scientific achievements, the New York World's Fair of 1939 sought to showcase the concepts and visions of the world of tomorrow. After years of the Great Depression, futuristic optimism was more than welcome. Over 45 million visitors came to see the utopian ‘Building the World of Tomorrow’ advertised by the opening motto the ‘Dawn of a New Day’. The fair visitors were promised a great fairy-tale world of the near future, relying on machines and technology, leaving them in awe and confident.
The architectural style of the pavilions was a mixture of the streamlined phase of Art Deco and a rising International Style influenced by European modernists such as Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius. ‘Building the World of Tomorrow’ was contemporary and future-oriented, and had a strong influence on American architecture and industrial design.
One of the most futuristic exhibits were the enormous white abstract centrepiece volumes of Trylon, Perisphere and Helicline, and the General Motors’ Futurama pavilion, the largest scale model ever constructed.
The Futurama pavilion was designed by the influential theatrical and industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes and architect Albert Kahn. The huge walk-in scale model offered its visitors a comfortable ride in moving sound chairs, where they could see the future American countryside, the sophisticated highways which ran through rural farmlands and eventually turned into futuristic cities all made of glass and chromium and curved or geometrically-shaped large white building volumes. The scale model included more than 500,000 buildings, 1 million trees and 50,000 motor vehicles.
The 1939 Futurama predicted personal car ownership which presented tangible futurism to the fair visitors. The entrance facade of the pavilion was a colossal white wall of abstract aerodynamically curved shapes with an entrance, a high ‘crack’ in the wall leading the millions of future-hungry visitors via curved pathways into the visions of the future. Little is known about the construction and the demolition of the pavilion after the end of the fair. In addition, the role of architect Albert Kahn and his relation with the mastermind of the Futurama, the designer Bel Geddes, is also not clear.