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The Unisphere is a 12-story high, spherical stainless steel representation of the Earth. Located in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park in the borough of Queens, New York City, the Unisphere is one of the borough's most iconic and enduring symbols.
Commissioned to celebrate the beginning of the space age, the Unisphere was conceived and constructed as the theme symbol of the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair. The theme of the World's Fair was "Peace Through Understanding" and the Unisphere represented the theme of global interdependence. It was dedicated to "Man's Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe".
Unisphere was initially conceptually designed by landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke in aluminum with metallic mesh continents; Unisphere underwent a further refined industrial design in stainless steel by industrial designers at Peter Muller-Munk Associates, and with engineering and fabrication by American Bridge Company, a division of US Steel. It is the world's largest global structure, rising 140 ft (43 m) and weighing 700,000 lb (320,000 kg). Some sources say the Unisphere weighs 900,000 lb (410,000 kg), a figure that includes the additional weight of its 100-ton inverted tripod base. The diameter of the sphere is 120 ft (37 m). It is constructed of Type 304L stainless steel. The continents on the sphere are fabricated with a special texture-pattern by Rigidized Metals Corporation, based in Buffalo, New York. Developed for this architectural project, the pattern's name, “1 UN” stands for: 1 Unisphere.
Built on the structural foundation that supported the Perisphere of the 1939–1940 New York World's Fair, the Unisphere is centered in a large, circular reflecting pool and is surrounded by a series of water-jet fountains. The 96 fountainheads arranged in pairs are designed to obscure its tripod pedestal. The effect is meant to make the Unisphere appear as if it is floating in space.
During the fair, dramatic lighting at night gave the effect of sunrise moving over the surface of the globe. Additionally, the capitals of nations were marked by lights. One of these lights is placed at the location of the Kahnawake Indian Reservation, which the Mohawk ironworkers requested to be placed there to honor their labor.
Three large orbit rings of stainless steel encircle the Unisphere at various angles. These orbit rings are believed to represent the tracks of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, and Telstar, the first active communications satellite. In fact, the early design was to have a ring for each of a dozen satellites in place at the time of the Fair. This proved impractical, not only in the number of satellites, but also in the height of their orbits and the fact that geostationary satellites had no orbit path. As a result, a symbolic number of three was chosen for aesthetic reasons.
In 1989, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation announced a multi-million dollar rehabilitation of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Among the projects was a complete restoration of the Unisphere. Begun in late 1993 and completed on May 31, 1994, the project included numerous structural repairs and removal of years' worth of grime accumulation on the steel. The fountains, shut off since the 1970s, were replaced, and new floodlighting installed. On May 10, 1995, the Unisphere was given official landmark status by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The Unisphere's fountain reopened on August 12, 2010, after a $2 million restoration of its pumps, valves and paintwork.
The marshy soil of Flushing Meadows needed special consideration during the original 1937 Perisphere construction for the 1939 World's Fair. The Perisphere, and subsequently the Unisphere, which used the same platform, employed a foundation of 528 pressure-creosoted Douglas fir piles of 95 to 100 feet (29 to 30 m) in length. Before construction of the Unisphere, three piles were tested for structural integrity and all were found to be sound throughout their entire length.
In popular culture
The Unisphere was climbed in 1976 by George Willig (the so called "Human Fly" who would later climb the World Trade Center), and Jery Hewitt as part of a short film called "The Third Stone", directed by NYU Film student, Paul Hornstein. Every year at least three people are taken to local hospitals for injuries from trying to climb the Unisphere.
"The Beastie Boys stand in front of the Unisphere on the gatefold LP cover of 'Licensed To Ill' album 1986 (Photographed by Sunny Bak)
- A photograph of the band Galaxie 500 was taken next the Unisphere.
- The Unisphere and some of the buildings from the 1964–1965 World's Fair are seen in an episode of The Flintstones titled "The Time Machine", which originally aired on January 15, 1965.
- The part of Men In Black 3 set in 1969 shows the Unisphere's fountains working in 2012.
- The Unisphere can be seen in the opening credits of the 1989 movie Black Rain directed by Ridley Scott.
- In the 1993 animated movie Mask of the Phantasm, a huge globe resembling the Unisphere is shown in the fictional "Gotham World Fair" during a fight between Batman and the Joker.
- The 1994 music video for "Flava in Ya Ear" featured the Unisphere.
- The Unisphere has appeared in the 1994 Cyndi Lauper music video "Hey Now (Girls Just Want To Have Fun)."
- Part of the movie Men in Black was filmed around the Unisphere in 1996. The structure was destroyed during a scene where an alien spacecraft was shot down.
- In the 1997 music video for the highly popular song "Mo Money Mo Problems" by Notorious B.I.G, rap moguls Sean Combs and Mase appear to be dancing in front of the Unisphere.
- The B-52's are posing in front of it on the cover of their 1998 greatest hits album Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation.
- The Unisphere can be seen in the opening credits of the 1998 TV series The King of Queens.
- It was the finish line of the first season of The Amazing Race.
- In the 2011 movie Captain America: The First Avenger an anachronistic Unisphere is shown in the fictional "Modern Marvels of Tomorrow" Exposition of 1941 (the Unisphere was not at the 1939 New York World's Fair).
- In the 2007 TV series Flight of the Conchords, Bret (Bret McKenzie) serenades his girlfriend sitting in front of the Unisphere with the song "If You're Into It".
- In 2007 the Unisphere was featured in the Law and Order: Criminal Intent episode "World's Fair."
- A rendition of the Unisphere called the Monoglobe appears in the 2008 video game Grand Theft Auto IV. It is destroyed in the game Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.
- It features on the cover art of the 2009 album Revolve by rock band Danger Danger.
- The 2010 movie Iron Man 2 had a battle scene which showed the Unisphere.
- In the 2011 movie New Year's Eve, the Unisphere and Queens Museum of Art are depicted.
- The Unisphere has appeared in episodes of CSI:NY. It is shown as the site of interest of the 'Compass Killer'.
- A scene from the TV series White Collar, featuring a kiss between Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) and Sara Ellis (Hilarie Burton), was shot at the Unisphere. The music video produced for the winter premiere of Season 4 featured the clip.
- The 2013 music video for Sleigh Bells' single "Bitter Rivals" features the band performing in front of the Unisphere.
- In the 2015 Disney film Tomorrowland the boy genius Frank Walker visits the World's Fair and is seen walking towards the Unisphere.
- The Unisphere is featured on the cover and in the story for the April 1973 issue of the comic book Fantastic Four #133.
- Focus on Fabrication - Rigidized Metals, The Architect's Newspaper 5.17.13
- "Unisphere: Built by US Steel as the symbol of the 1964-5 New York World's Fair", Place Matters, 5 Feb 2010, accessed 11 Jan 2011
- Hirshon, Nicholas (August 13, 2010). "Fountain's Return". Daily News (New York). Retrieved 2010-09-03.
- (Creosote) Performance: Proved By More Than 75 Years Service
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Unisphere.|
- nywf64.com (1964/1965 New York World's Fair Web site) story of Unisphere at the World's Fair
- Unisphere Landmark Designation Report (PDF)
- Unisphere pictures
- Internet Archive: The Unisphere: Biggest World on Earth (1964), film about the creation of the Unisphere
- The Unisphere: Biggest World on Earth on Cinemaniacal
- Internet Archive: New York World's Fair, 1964/03/02 (1964), newsreel featuring the Unisphere.