Back to the Future: Reimagining the New York State Pavilion

“Hanging Garden” by Aidan Doyle and Sarah Wan was the first-prize winner in the New York State Pavilion Design Competition
Photo courtesy National Trust for Historic Preservation and People for the Pavilion
By Tammy Scileppi

The future looks bright for a neglected Queens landmark, thanks to a no-holds-barred ideas competition that yielded remarkable blueprints for its transformation.

How do you reinvent a decades-old, deteriorating architectural icon for the 21st century? That question sparked a spirited local, national and international dialogue after participants in the New York State Pavilion Ideas Competition were asked to re-imagine one of the last vestiges of the 1964 World’s Fair.

It turns out that the once-vibrant New York State Pavilion, located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, was quite popular, even in faraway places like Seattle and Bhopal, India.

The competition was sponsored by Borough President Melinda Katz in partnership with two nonprofits: the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the People for the Pavilion. Combining imagination and innovation with an “anything goes” approach, it inspired an outpouring of creativity.

An open call for Pavilion makeover ideas resulted in the collection of 250-plus submissions between March 1 and July 1 from across the United States as well as over 20 other countries. Based on this unique endeavor, it was clearly evident that there are many concerned and community-minded people out there, who are surprisingly passionate about the Pavilion and its future.

The Pavilion really deserves a second chance.

“It is often said that the New York State Pavilion is Queens’ calling card to the world,” Stephanie K. Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said. “This structure lights up people’s imaginations and encourages us all to dream big.”

Happily, good things are in store for the vacant building. At a preview event for “Pavilion Futures: The New York State Pavilion Ideas Competition Exhibit,” which is up at the Queens Museum through Aug. 28, a diverse group of judges chose four winning makeover ideas that may hold the key to the Pavilion’s future.

“All along, our goal has been to draw attention to the fun submissions and creative ideas for the Pavilion’s re-use. The four winners are just that—they represent, according to the judges, the most creative ideas,” Jason Clement, director of Community Outreach at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said.

“We hope that public support and interest in the Pavilion will continue to help find funding for its restoration.”

Brave new design plans may soon turn the treasured relic into a structure that would complement the park’s existing attractions, serve nearby communities, and further invigorate the borough.

“The New York State Pavilion is more than half a century old, but Philip Johnson’s iconic structure in the center of Queens is still the ‘Tent of Tomorrow’ to those who know it,” noted architecture critic and Vanity Fair Contributing Editor Paul Goldberger, who was a keynote speaker and one of the judges at the event.

“The outpouring of new ideas for its re-use not only shows how beloved this structure is, it gives me confidence that this great building can have a future that will be as meaningful as its past.”

The winning ideas represent the most exciting, forward-thinking futures for the Pavilion:

Philip Johnson’s original design inspired the judges’ first-prize winner, “Hanging Meadows” by Seattle-based architects Aidan Doyle and Sarah Wan. By repurposing the original pavilion, visitors would behold a suspended natural environment with spectacular views of the city.

“The primary inspiration for us was finding a way to repurpose the 16 existing 100-foot concrete piers” Doyle said. “A hanging garden, which combines native endangered habitats and educational settings, seemed like a great way to do that.”

Javier Salinas, an architect from Williston Park, NY, came up with the second-prize winner, “Civic Hub.” Salinas said he was inspired to invigorate the Pavilion’s charm by “restoring its original splendor and also make it a symbol of a public space that promotes people’s health, happiness and wellbeing.”

Third-prize winners and “Pavilion for the Community” designers Shaurya Sharma, 19, and Rishi Kejrewal, 20, live and study architecture in Bhopal, India.

The Queens Winner was “Pavilion Park,” by Jamaica residents Cesar Juarez, 26, and Alida Rose Delaney, 24. They imagined a versatile communal space centered around a stage with built-in stadium seating, which would mirror the original structure. As locals, they had a special feeling for the pavilion and sought to pay homage to its historical significance by redesigning it into a multifunctional public space, and converting it into a public park “that New Yorkers can call their own.”

The NYSP Fan Favorite, chosen by popular vote on savingplaces.org, was “Tent of the Future” by Houiji Ramzi, Saint Etienne, France. The project envisions an open public space that would incorporate the Pavilion’s retro futuristic vibe.

“It is truly incredible what the imagination and a healthy dose of competition can engender,” Borough President Melinda Katz said.

A longtime advocate for the restoration of the Pavilion, Katz has allocated nearly $6.5 million from her own discretionary funds since coming into office in 2014, as well as an additional $6.5 million in public funds to date for the Pavilion, including important electrical and structural improvements on the “Astro-View” Towers.

To see all entries, visit savingplaces.org

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