Mystery of the Candela Structures

Mystery of the Candela Structures

While this may sound like the title to a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys novel, the story of the Candela Structures was, for a while, shrouded in mystery.

Not until enthusiasts of the structures decided to do some sleuthing did the long mysterious past of these very public structures come to light. The results of this research culminated in an exhibit in 2009 titled The Candela Structures: A New York City History Mystery, which was on view at the City Reliquary  in the summer of 2009. The exhibit and web site have both been produced by architect Kirsten Hively and journalist Paul Lukas, who’ve been interested in the Candela Structures since September of 2008.

These fiberglass shells were initially  made for the 1964 World’s Fair as exhibition spaces, and had glass walls that have long since been removed. There were three, but only two remain today, and what happened to the third one… no one knows. The designer of the Candella Structures was attributed to the architect Felix Candela, however this was dispelled, leaving the true creator of the structures unknown for the extent of Kirsten and Paul’s research.

Here is an excerpt from their website on this, as incite to the reason the designer was unclear:

“Who designed the Candela Structures? The original drawings have been lost, so it’s impossible to know for sure, but the answer would seem to lie in the structures’ name, a reference to the architect Félix Candela. Candela, who died in 1997, specialized in thin shells of reinforced concrete, and the Marina buildings do look like his work. But we’ve come to doubt that he designed them. Here’s why:

  • Books about Candela make no mention of the World’s Fair, and Candela scholars have told us they’re unfamiliar with the Marina structures.
  • Candela’s widow, Dorothy Candela, could not recall him having worked on the structures.
  • Candela’s papers, which are held at Columbia University, show nothing related to the Fair.
  • The architect of record for the World’s Fair Marina was Peter Schladermundt, who had no known connection to Candela. (Schladermundt died in 1975, and we’ve been unable to locate his papers.)

But if Candela didn’t design the structures, who did? Maybe Schladermundt; maybe a team at Owens-Corning Fiberglass, which oversaw the manufacturing of the structures; maybe someone else. For now, this question remains a mystery. (Update!: We’re happy to report that this mystery has been solved. You can learn the answer right away, or just keep paging through the exhibit and all will be revealed.)”

I highly recommend clicking that link to find out who the true designer was, and while you’re there, take a look at the amazing collection of data and images Kirsten and Paul dug up.

A little on the structure’s assembly from them:

“The individual panels (12 or 16 per structure, depending on which source you believe) snapped together with embedded steel connectors and a center pin at the top, and the feet are anchored to the ground with steel L brackets. The joints are the weakest point — they’re now riddled with cracks, which have allowed water to penetrate and wreck havoc with the vulnerable foam interior. Perhaps more regular maintenance or high-tech sealants not available in 1964 could protect these connections today? Nevertheless, they’ve held up remarkably well and may in fact be the oldest standing fiberglass structures in New York City.”

 

Drawing based on a drawing by Miceli, Kulik, Williams & Associates, PC, dated May 20, 1998, for a 2001 renovation. (Original drawing courtesy of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation)

 

Photos: View looking west along the Flushing Bay Promenade, during the Fair (left) and today. The fair photo is one of only three known photographs showing all three original structures together. (Photos courtesy of Owens Corning; and Kirsten Hively)