Selling Spirituality and Spectacle: Religious Pavilions at the New York World's Fair of 1964–65

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In its appeal to popular tastes and open commercialism, the New York World's Fair of 1964–65 reflected much of what characterized American society in the 1950s and 1960s. It asserted democracy and capitalism as liberating forces against communism. It presented scientific discovery as integral to modernizing and improving life for people around the globe. Yet developments beyond the fairgrounds, such as the continuing Cold War, demonstrated that complete faith in progress was not working. In a period marked by a rapid rise in church membership and the construction of religious buildings in the United States, the fair stands out for its relative preponderance of religious pavilions, more than at any previous fair. Like the fair pavilions in general, the religious pavilions competed for spectators in the marketplace of the fairgrounds. Many religious organizations considered the fair a crucial arena for developing a more activist agenda in the world and an important opportunity to assert their relevance and to spread their messages to a global audience. Most religious pavilions at the fair rejected a pure modernist architectural style in favor of midcentury modern design, embracing populist, consumer-driven, and dramatic elements. Consequently, they fit in with the overall futuristic appearance of the fair. But they also possessed distinct qualities designed to help them stand out among a crowded field of international, state, and corporate exhibits in order to convey their messages of change and salvation.

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Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum





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