Plastics Solve Design Problems


By Milton Immermann
Schaefer Center

SOURCE: Excerpted from Plastics World, July1964

IN THE DECADES between the two New York World's Fairs, plastics have become seriously competitive with natural materials in just about every area imaginable. In addition, because of superior cost, speed of fabrication and weight characteristics, they have resulted in the development of a host of new products and industries.

Every Fair, despite an overall diversity, in retrospect leaves some distinct impression. The last one held in New York unveiled commercial television and the first nylon stockings.

This Fair, I believe, demonstrates effectively the present and believable future of the fabulous world of plastics, a world that has grown up in the years between "Building the World of Tomorrow" and "Peace Through Understanding."

Despite its humanistic theme, this Fair will be presenting its statements in practical terms. In any review of today's environmental requirements, plastics play an enormously significant part.

Among the exhibits designed by Walter Dorwin Teague Associates (the American Machine & Foundry Monorail for AMF, the Festival of Gas Pavilion for the gas industries, and Schaefer Center for the F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Company), plastics are used to perform an amazing number of jobs that would have been assigned to a wide variety of natural materials twenty-five years ago. In fact, they achieved results and effects that would have been impossible then. More importantly, they have not been used simply as substitutes for glass and steel and wood, but rather for their own new, unique product characteristics and performance. In each case, interestingly enough, the plastics used offered a solution to a specific problem which could not have been solved with any other material.

Sparkling Acrylic Bubble Walls

For the Schaefer Center, designed by us in conjunction with architects Eggers & Higgins, the requirement was for a semi-permanent, light weight, inexpensive building. Again, plastics solved several problems in ways that no other materials could.

Translucent acrylic fountain rests easily atop glass fiber reinforced plastics base in Schaefer Pavilion.
Translucent Fountain

For the walls, restaurant and exhibit areas, the architects wanted a transparent, sparkling effect to enclose the two circles, one 90' in diameter to house the restaurant, the other 50' wide. The decision was for specially designed bubble patterned rigid walls, made of heat-formed 1/2" thick cast sheets of Rohm & Haas acrylic. In addition to providing a pattern that is reminiscent of a glass of good beer, the "bubbles" contribute to the rigidity and strength of the walls. Their surface is made up of a series of vacuum formed dome shapes, from 18" to 24" in diameter. These were formed, according to the molder, Just Plastics, Inc., by a new cost-saving technique. The logistics of time, cost, shipping and installation pointed to plastic-acrylic, which is lighter in weight and less prone to breakage than glass.

Inflated Ceilings

Above each area are circular ceilings comprised of two thin, vinyl-coated fabric skins, air inflated, held by compression rings attached to columns. Fabricated by Birdan Structures of Buffalo, they are made of a vinyl-coated glass fiber yarn, woven into fabric and vinyl-coated again by J. P. Stevens Company. Like other inflated roofs in use at the Fair, this one offers superior savings in cost. The fabric roof alone weighs only six ounces per square foot. The entire structure, in fact, weighs only one-sixth as much as it would if constructed of conventional materials. Interestingly, the steel columns and rings, are used to anchor the roof to the earth, rather than to provide support.

Generous use of plastics at the Fair is typified at Schaefer Pavilion by plastics chairs, tables, counters, trees and leaves, walls, and the vinyl covered inflated ceiling.
Restaurant Interior

Plastics are widely used in the restaurant as non-functional decorative elements. A sparkling translucent fountain, fabricated by Decew & Decew of acrylic, forms the focal point of the room. A decorative screen, of acrylic sandwich panels, stands behind the buffet food bar. The screen is companioned by matching screens placed at the entrance to the restaurant. In addition to their decorative function, they serve to define space and control traffic.

As costs are reduced and technologies advanced, plastics will be used more frequently in solving new problems, serving as casual agents for new industries and activities. The continued thoughtful and realistic application of plastics to requirements where their suitability and performance are superior to other materials will accelerate their success and the industry's astonishing pattern of growth.

The present World's Fair has provided us with the unique and timely opportunity to bring plastics materials more sharply into focus as materials for construction -- here today and ready for tomorrow.

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