Space age construction technique
provides maximum exhibit space in a small area
by: Bill Young with William Sippel
In 1884 John H. Patterson founded the National
Cash Register Company, maker of the first mechanical cash registers.
NCR had become a leader in computer technology and automated
data processing since those times when mechanical cranks calculated
financial transactions. Celebrating their 80th birthday in 1964,
and in keeping with the nature of their business, NCR decided
that their pavilion at the New York World's Fair should have
a "technical look." They selected the Pittsburgh architectural
firm of Deeter & Ritchey (now DRS Architects) to design that pavilion.
The project was headed by the firm's principle designer, Mr.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr.
Sippel this past summer. He told me some of the details of the
design and construction of the NCR Pavilion. The pavilion has
always been a personal favorite of mine. The massive, yet graceful
towers support an exhibit hall that appears to float in mid-air.
Its location on the Court of the Moon with the Lunar Fountain
at its entrance adds to the beauty of the building. Unfortunately,
very little is known about NCR's pavilion and participation at
the Fair; their exhibit being overshadowed by technical rival
IBM. Therefore, I am very grateful to Mr. Sippel and Michelle
Sokol, Marketing Coordinator for DRS Architects, for taking the time to share
these reminiscences and photos of the NCR Pavilion.
Deeter and Ritchey's original proposal
for NCR consisted of a number of 70 to 80 foot poles embedded
in the ground from which an exhibit hall was to be suspended
by cables. Mr. Sippel recalled that NCR rejected this proposal,
one executive saying the design looked "too nautical."
Going back to the design table, a pavilion of "space frame"
design was developed and eventually agreed upon.
In "space frame" design, trusses
of steel bars in geometric shapes carry the stress loads of the
structure as opposed to traditional designs where steel girders
and columns bear the loads. This allows for greater open and
unobstructed exhibit space. The NCR pavilion contains two sets
of space frames consisting of welded steel pipe and steel balls
with the top frame supporting the bottom frame. The top frame
becomes the roof of the pavilion while the bottom contained the
second floor exhibit hall where the main exhibit was housed.
Mr. Sippel remembers that an escalator took visitors from the
smaller lower hall to the larger upper exhibit gallery.
Both sets of frame trusses cantilever outward
from the center of the building to a span of between 60 to 80
feet. According to Mr. Sippel, the design was very advanced and
computers were employed to test the design before construction
could begin. The computer models indicated the trusses had to
be scaled back several feet in order for the design to work.
Following the Fair, Deeter & Ritchey's
chief engineer was invited to a symposium in the Soviet Union
to give a presentation on the design of the pavilion. Mr. Sippel
also recalled that the American Society of Civil Engineers wished
to do load tests on the pavilion to see how much stress it would
take to make the building collapse. The information they could
gain would tell them a lot about the strength of space frames.
The ASCE attempted raise the $25 thousand necessary to do load
testing on the pavilion but were unsuccessful. NCR's contract
with the Fair called for demolition of their pavilion to be completed
by December 31, 1965 and the Society was unable to raise the
necessary funds before the pavilion had to be demolished.
NCR Pavilion rises on Flushing Meadows. Extent
of space frame floor and ceiling is apparent. Tall steel scaffolding
are the three massive towers to which the space frames were connected.
Photographs © DRS ARCHITECTS - NO Unauthorized
Reproduction is Permitted