The distinctive form of the Candela Structures is a kind of minimal surface. Like a dome, it can be generated by forming a wire into the shape of the edge and dipping it in a viscous liquid, like soap or liquid plastic as in the small study model above, center. The model at right shows an empty shell, like the two that remain at the site today. The model at left includes the canted glass walls that were part of the buildings during the Fair. (Photos and models by Kirsten Hively)
The 1964 World's Fair, like other fairs before and since, was a study in planned obsolescence. Many of the buildings would have been difﬁcult to repurpose and even more difﬁcult to maintain, and the vast majority of them simply were not engineered to last multiple seasons of heat, humidity, snow, and ice.
The Candela Structures, however, remain standing after 45 years. Their simple form and small size made them ﬂexible—they can function as picnic shelters as easily as Fair pavilions—and their design, based on on geometric shapes called hyperbolic paraboloids, distributes weight efﬁciently and enables the shell to withstand surprisingly heavy loads (an approach pioneered in the 1950s by Félix Candela). These shells are a light, durable sandwich construction with resin-impregnated ﬁberglass inside and out spaced with lightweight foam.
The individual panels (12 or 16 per structure, depending on which source you believe) snapped together with embedded steel connectors and a center pin at the top, and the feet are anchored to the ground with steel L brackets. The joints are the weakest point — they're now riddled with cracks, which have allowed water to penetrate and wreck havoc with the vulnerable foam interior. Perhaps more regular maintenance or high-tech sealants not available in 1964 could protect these connections today? Nevertheless, they've held up remarkably well and may in fact be the oldest standing ﬁberglass structures in New York City.
While the Candelas are not important in the traditional sense — they were neither revolutionary nor widely inﬂuential — they represent an interesting conﬂuence of industrial design and architecture, their pre-fabricated construction is notable, and their whimsy is undiminished after nearly half a century. We realize they probably don't qualify for a short list of world architectural highlights, but shouldn't they at least rate a mention in the AIA Guide to New York City? Maybe in the next edition…
Based on a drawing by Miceli, Kulik, Williams & Associates, PC, dated May 20, 1998, for a 2001 renovation. (Original drawing courtesy of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation)
This photo shows how the elements on this page were displayed in the exhibit. (Photo by Kirsten Hively)
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