Fifty years ago this month, an architectural wonderland opened in Queens, New York—the 1964-65 World’s Fair that Robert Moses created to bring millions of visitors to Flushing Meadows and raise money to build a permanent park there. Unlike several earlier fairs, notably the 1893 Chicago exposition, with its all-white neoclassical confections, Moses’s effort lacked an architectural through-line; 140 exhibitors did pretty much what they pleased. That meant the sprawling fair lacked visual coherence, but also that companies and countries competed to attract visitors, if not with high architecture than with garish architectural gimmickry, including bright colors, odd shapes, and novel materials.
Critics—which is to say, adults—were almost universally dismissive of the effort. In a Life Magazine article titled “If This Is Architecture, God Help Us” Vincent Scully Jr. wrote: “I doubt whether any fair was ever so crassly, even brutally, conceived as this one.” For her part, Ada Louise Huxtable, writing in The New York Times, called the fair “disconnected, grotesque, lacking any unity of concept or style,” though she added that it is “just those accidental juxtapositions and cockeyed contrasts built into the fair that give it its particular attraction and charm.” She called much of it “trick or treat architecture.”