Cycle wheel | Silvia Blanco Agüeira

Emplazamiento del pabellón y el teatro americanos en el recinto de la Expo58, señalados en color sobre el plano del recinto.
Emplacement of the pavilion and the theatre Americans in the enclosure of the Expo58, indicated in color on the plane of the enclosure.

The Universal Exhibition of Brussels was marked by the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, which respective pavilions occupied the most important cabins of this political chessboard into which there turned the great Belgian park chosen for the celebration. Both plots were provocativamente conflicting, with both countries distrusting mutually and embarked in a promotional contest.

In fact, the Soviets were the first ones in warning of his intentions: the construction of the costliest building and of major dimensions of the whole international section. The Americans took it with calmer, being late almost two years in choosing the architect who was giving form to an image that had to be projected to the entire world, but also towards the future in the time.

Imágenes del interior del pabellón. Derecha: fotografía de Wouter Hagens.
Images of the interior of the pavilion. Right: Wouter Hagens´s photography.

Under these premises, Edward Durell Stone designed a pavilion in which one was inviting to feel America, where the brilliant products of consumption were crowding together, and in which there were realized constant fashion shows supported by the Vogue Magazine1. Of circular plant, it was possessing a lattice like surrounding, a cover based on a plastic translucent material, a great sheet of central water with an islet for the parades, and the presence of several willows that were completing the interior scenery. The created space seemed to be directly extracted from the urban environment, since it was possessing fragments of big advertising labels, logos, graphical symbols and traffic signals. The vanguardista señalética, a work of the graphical designers Robert Brownjohn, Ivan Chermayeff and Thomas Geismar was showing an obtained process of hybridization that was immersing the spectator in an enterteining, attractive and gleaming world. All the resources were necessary to attract the tired visitor, from a wide theatre up to a cinema constructed by the company Disney, in whose democratic curled walls were projecting images in tecnicolor2.

Brownjohn, Chermayeff y Geismar:
Brownjohn, Chermayeff and Geismar: “Streetscape”. © 2015 Eliza Brownjohn/MoMA

In both cases, the volumes were independent from the principal one and minors were possessing measure, though they were sharing a similar aspect, since of drum3.  Few ones know that, together with the famous Atomium, both the mentioned theatre and the basement of the principal construction were the only accomplishments of the Expo58 that still perviven in his primitive location, being used up to the current importance as set of radio and television.

The one that has not survived has been the singular cover of the official pavilion, concebida as if about a wheel of bicycle it was treating itself, with cables to traction subjects in the central zone for a ring steel, or what is the same thing, a series of radioes arranged horizontally and supported by metallic props in the exterior perimeter4.

Maqueta del pabellón americano, detalle de la estructura de cubierta, 2010. © Peter Putman, Vakgroep Architectuur & Stedenbouw, Universiteit Gent . http://atomium.be/mini58.aspx
Model of the American pavilion, detail of the structure of cover, 2010. © Peter Putman, Vakgroep Architectuur & Stedenbouw, Universiteit Gent | atomium.be

Precisely, they were these supports about which the explosive Jayne Mansfield swaggered in his visit to Heysel’s enclosure, with the building still in works. If one of the principal obsessions to the authorities and commissioners belonged to steal the protagonism from the enemy, the aim seemed to be reached fully. Partly, thanks to a wheel of bicycle.

Silvia Blanco Agüeira, PhD architect
Viveiro, october 2015

Notes:

1 Passes organized by the socialité of New York Caroline Lee Bouvier Canfield, sister of Jacqueline Kennedy.

2 This screen had his double in the Soviet Kinopanorama, six projectors and three screens where there was showing itself an epic movie of the life and of the landscape of his republics.

3 Besides both previous ones, there existed the third separated volume and that was completing the American set, the pavilion named Unfinished Business, composed by three pieces joined by a gangplank and that was centring on the social and racial problems of the country. Blanco Agüeira, Silvia: “Asuntos pendientes“, Veredes [26/06/2015].

4 Mallo, Álvaro; Blanco, Silvia and Carballo, Francisco: “Denostada Bx´58” (Conference given inside the course Secrets of the Architecture, Luis Seoane Foundation, A Coruña, on May 19, 2014).

Silvia Blanco Agüeira

Silvia Blanco es una arquitecta gallega que se dedica a la teoría de la arquitectura. Cuenta con un gran número de publicaciones, ponencias, artículos científicos y comunicaciones que giran alrededor de tres ejes temáticos: el estudio de olvidados y notables ejemplos de la historia de la arquitectura; la puesta en valor del patrimonio arquitectónico del noroeste peninsular, en especial, el construido en la segunda mitad del siglo XX; y por último, la implementación de métodos de aprendizaje que fomenten el sentido crítico y la capacidad analítica del alumno.

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