Exceptional Expositions

While fairs of the 1930s turned to the future as a foil to the Great Depression, the Golden Gate International Exposition conjured up geographical metaphors to explore the nature of San Francisco's place in what organizers called "Pacific Civilization." The fair proposed a vision of the Pacific as an antidote to the troubled Atlantic world, then descending into chaos for the second time in a generation. Architects took up the theme and projected the regionalist sensibilities of Northern California onto Asian and Latin American architecture. Their eclectic, referential buildings drew widely on the cultural traditions of ancient Cambodia, China, and Mexico, as well as the International Style, Art Deco, and the Bay Region Tradition. Buildings supported the cultural and political work of the fair and fashioned a second, parallel world in a moment of economic depression and international turmoil.

Bernard Maybeck and William Merchant designed a spirited Tower of Youth that, had it been built, would have been a pendant to the Palace of Fine Arts at the PPIE. Timothy Pflueger, by contrast, built a Federal Building that was equal parts New Deal institutional architecture, Art Deco, and a manifesto of regionalism. Brazil and Argentina’s modernity offset the nostalgic historicism of the Pacific Area, while the Pacific House posed as a vessel of neutrality in the midst of a symbolic Pacific. With images of designs by William Wurster, Ernest Born, Arthur Brown, Jr., and a host of other architects, this exhibit shows a cross-section of architecture in a moment of quickening change in the profession and the wider world.

Unless otherwise stated all material on display is from the Environmental Design Archives.