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Palace of Fine Arts of The Panama

San Francisco, United States of America
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Palace of Fine Arts by Bernard Maybeck

The Panama - Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) was a world's fair held in San Francisco between February and December 1915. Its purpose was to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal. In addition, after the disastrous 1906 earthquake, this was a great opportunity for San Francisco to show its recovery, optimism and new identity. The fair was constructed on a 2.6 km2 site along the northern shore. It was nicknamed 'The Jewel City' because of the 43-story Tower of Jewels covered with fake jewels made of polished coloured glass.

Despite many technological and artistic innovations, the architecture was extremely neoclassical, widely admired by visitors, but somewhat conservative compared to previous fairs. The preservation efforts began before the fair even closed and few of the fair's artefacts were saved from demolition. The fair's buildings and attractions were constructed from temporary frameworks and materials, mostly staff (made of powdered gypsum, cement, glycerin, dextrin, mixed with water and strengthened with jute fiber), which were pulled down or left abandoned after the fair was over in late 1915. Impossible to imagine the 'day-after' scenes of fallen palaces fake ruins.

Due to its immense popularity, the 'foremost' surviving building of PPIE was Bernard Ralph Maybeck's Palace of Fine Arts. The palace, which hosted the nation's best modern art collection, was an illustrious example of architecture from the Roman antiquity. After seeing the Palace of Fine Arts in 1915, Thomas Edison himself said: "The architect of that building is a genius. There is not the equal of it anywhere on earth." The Palace was designed in ancient ruin style. It has a central rotunda, frontal roofless colonnades and, behind them, the massive structure of the covered art gallery building. The absence of windows in the rotunda and the roofless colonnades highlight the elements of surrounding nature, trees and water. The unusual allegorical statues of inward-looking women representing 'Introspection' on the top of the colonnades were sculpted by Ulrich Henry Ellerhusen.

The palace remained open due to popular demand, but began to slowly crumble after 1915 due to the temporary nature of its materials. It was completely reconstructed in the 1960s, first demolished and then rebuilt in steel and lightweight concrete, and seismically retrofitted in 2009.

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bostjan, July 7th, 2017
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