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The Sunsphere

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I was watching The Simpsons last knight, and the episode had to do with Bart getting a fake ID, renting a car and driving to The World's Fair in Knoxville. In honor of that, here's the Wikipedia entry and a photo...

The Sunsphere is an 81.07 m (266-foot) high hexagonal steel truss structure, topped with a 23m (74-foot) gold-colored glass sphere. While not by any means the tallest, it is the most distinctive structure on the Knoxville, Tennessee skyline.

Designed by the Knoxville architectural firm Community Tectonics, the Sunsphere was created as the theme structure for the 1982 World's Fair. It was noted for its unique design in several engineering publications. Today, most of the World's Fair site is a public park and a convention center, but the Sunsphere itself shows no sign of going away.

In its original design, the sphere portion was to have had a diameter of 86.5 feet to represent symbolically the 865,000-mile diameter sun. The tower's window glass panels are layered in 24-karat gold dust and cut to seven different shapes. It weighs 600 tons and features six double steel truss columns in supporting the seven-story sphere. The tower has a volume of 203,689 cubic feet and a surface of 16,742 square feet.

During the fair it cost $2 to take the elevator to its observation deck. The tower served as a restaurant and featured food items such as the Sunburger and a drink called the Sunburst.

In the early morning hours on May 12, 1982, a shot was fired from outside the fair site and shattered one of the sphere's windows. No one was ever arrested for the incident.

The Sunsphere has been used as a symbol for Knoxville, appearing in postcards and logos. Between 1993 and 1999, the Sunsphere was featured in part on the logo for the Knoxville Smokies minor league baseball club. The 2002 AAU Junior Olympics mascot Spherit took its inspiration from the landmark. It featured red hair and a body shaped like the Sunsphere. In October 1987, the sphere was illuminated to represent a huge jack-o-lantern. On Sunday, May 15, 2000, nuclear weapons protesters scaled the tower and hung a large banner that said "Stop the Bombs." They remained on the tower for three days before surrendering to police on Tuesday, May 17, 2000.

As a result of European starlings depositing too much guano on the tower's frame, in 2003, the Knoxville Public Buildings Authority purchased from Avian Systems Corporation a device that emits various noises to scare the birds away from the tower.

A similarly designed tower by architect Marc Cardoso called the Tower of Power was rejected by fair planners in 1977.[citation needed]

To most residents the Sunsphere is seen as an iconic symbol of the city of Knoxville, but to some it is more frequently "appreciated" for its eccentricity than its unique design[who?]. University of Tennessee students (adjacent to the site) have occasionally held competitions for "alternate uses" of the Sunsphere.

post-3701-1210441315_thumb.jpg

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As a result of European starlings depositing too much guano on the tower's frame, in 2003, the Knoxville Public Buildings Authority purchased from Avian Systems Corporation a device that emits various noises to scare the birds away from the tower.

Too bad these devices werent around back when the tower/TOT stairwells were not eaten up by guano induced corrosion. The birds would have been scared off, and the stairwells would have survived to this very day. Sad.

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I saw another episode of the Simpsons with a 64 WF reference: the monorail episode. When the monorail went out of control, a sticker on the side peeled off revealing "1964 New York World's Fair" hidden underneath it.

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Yes, the Simpsons frequently visit World's Fairs. No doubt a sentimental influence by the show's creater and team of writers.

Here is a little known secret:

The nom de plum chosen by the creator of The Simpsons is Matt Groening.

Spelled backwards it's Gnineorg Ttam.

In the on-line Kazakh dictionary, Gninneorg Ttam is a phrase meaning....that's right, 'World's Fair'.

But don't tell anybody, it's supposed to be one of those Hollywood insider secrets.

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Here's a view of the Sunsphere before they had to worry about pesky birds:

sunsphere-and-wind-vane.jpg

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Cool shot, Bill-- that looks like an amazing Holiday Inn Pavilion behind it! :rolleyes:

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Still there, but I think it's a Marriott now?

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Unisphere dismantled - relocated to Knoxville! Seen here dwarfing the Sunsphere:

293724354_w7PDQ-L.jpg

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This may be a dumb question, but is that an actual photograph of a Unisphere model with the actual Sunsphere in the background or is it a photoshop image? If it is real, why is there a Unisphere model at that site? Why would anyone place such a sculpture in front of a parking garage?

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This may be a dumb question, but is that an actual photograph of a Unisphere model with the actual Sunsphere in the background or is it a photoshop image? If it is real, why is there a Unisphere model at that site? Why would anyone place such a sculpture in front of a parking garage?

Yes it is a real unisphere and in that location. My guess is that it's about 25ft in diameter, it is in front of that garage and is not a retouch. I don't recall what else is in the area but it is not totally incongruous as it appears, there is that spherical World's Fair theme going on.

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Interesting. Strange, but interesting. I wonder if there is some sort of a statement indicating what the sphere is or if it is just some sort of a free form in front of a nondescript parking garage.

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Interesting. Strange, but interesting. I wonder if there is some sort of a statement indicating what the sphere is or if it is just some sort of a free form in front of a nondescript parking garage.

The way I see it anything that tips it's hat to the NYWF is a good thing. Let's hope it does not meet the same ignominious end as this one did one year ago today

(actually built during the fair, with the same contour style continents, but I don't know why - Bill Cotter probably knows).

194114975_Gipjf-L-2.jpg

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I believe that the owners of the housing park didn't want to keep spending money on the upkeep any longer.

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I believe that the owners of the housing park didn't want to keep spending money on the upkeep any longer.

I meant why was it built in the first place? I can see Knoxville but Seal Beach? Too bad it was scrapped because Madagascar would have made a nice modern coffee table top.

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There were several of these adult oriented communities called Leisure World, and I believe they all had globes to attract attention from passing motorists.

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There were several of these adult oriented communities called Leisure World

That makes it sound like a nudist colony! :D

Actually Leisure World is a retirement community with gated access. And like Bill said, the 'globe' theme was only to tie into the 'World' in their name. Lots of businesses with World in their name use some sort of globe as part of their logo symbol. I think retirement communities like the 'World' concept because it implies that EVERYthing they could EVER need (in my Ed McMahon / Karnak voice) is RIGHT there and they would NEVER have to leave that gated access community- it is a self-contained world. [for retirees that sounds like the Roach Motel commercial doesn't it- "they check in, but they don't check out!"

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I was at that globe in 2004. It was in great shape. I took a lot of pictures and they turned it on for me to rotate and I also filmed it. Too bad it is gone. They told me that it was constructed in 1960 or 1961. I was always struck by how my big Topping RM sized unisphere was colored the same way. I guess the plans for the FMCP Unisphere changed from its original inception.

My brother in law worked for Clarke & Rapuano and an older associate of his told him the original plans for the Unisphere was for it to rotate in the pool. Speaking of rotating objects in pools - did the Astral Fountain actually rotate?

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I am guessing here, but I would be willing to bet that nine out of ten people who see that miniature Unisphere in Knoxville have absolutely no idea of its connection to another world's fair much less to the 1964 NYWF. As a history teacher for 31 years, I have finally come to realize that, as a nation, we have almost no collective awareness of our history--social, political or cultural. WE know it is a Unisphere replica because we are informed and interested in this topic. Most others will not know this. I point this out because I was watching Hardball last evening (May 15) and saw a talking head who was slamming a current presidential hopeful and echoing statements made by the president about appeasement by Nevile Chamberlain in 1938. For over five minutes this individual dodged the question as to exactly what Chamberlain had done to appease Hitler and after listening to that windbag I finally heard him admit he had no idea what had happened in Munich that year or what appeasement really is. As I said, it appears that we have no collective memory of who we are or of our history. My current students know what appeasement is because we just discussed it prior to our study of WW2. They also know what the Unisphere is because I have showed them images. But not one of them knew this prior to our brief discussion. Why would they? In the flow of our history, it is probably a tiny footnote.

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Yes, the Astral fountain definitely rotated, with wheels running on a circular track.

I can't see how they could have got the Unisphere to rotate- it's easy to see why they abandoned the idea. It was a herculean task just to get the center of gravity perfectly centered on that relatively tiny pedestal, with the earth tilted at the proper angle relative to the "sun".

The engineers had to do a whole lot of calculations to figure out where in the earth's rotation it would have to be displayed locked down so that the 'weight' of the continents hanging on the frame would be centered directly above that pedestal. Apparently there was only ONE answer if the continents were to be displayed accurately as if looking from space. Although the earth's surface is mostly water, continental drift has not yet dispersed the continents so that they are equally spread all over the surface of the earth. So there is only one point in the earth's rotation where the center of gravity is above the pedestal which is at an angle equal to the earth's tilt.

The only way to get it to rotate without it falling off the pedestal, would have been to sacrifice accuracy in the positioning of the continents, or sacrifice the accuracy of the tilt of the earth, or to replace the relatively tiny pedestal with a humongous one that would be strong enough to bear any shift in weight. Then you'd probably never see Antarctica or New Zealand or Argentina, because they'd be buried from view into this giant pedestal and the rotation would be done by some kind of train track system that crossed those countries in a ring around the bottom of the globe. Nobody would like that.

It might be easier to rotate Flushing Meadow Park around the Unisphere to give viewers the sense that it is spinning, when it is not.

Either that, or rotate the entire pedestal itself, which wouldn't be a 'true' rotation around the north and south poles. No doubt, even if they'd figured it out, the motor would have broken down in the 70's because of lack of maintenance, and repair would be so prohibitive that Parks would just leave it locked into place like it is today anyway.

Come to think of it, if they didn't want to sacrifice visual accuracy or an accurate tilt, while rotating it on that little pedestal on an accurate polar axis (tilted), they could mount a counterbalance machine INSIDE the globe that could shift a big weight blob as the earth rotated, to counterblance the weight of the continents and keep the center of gravity right smack on that little pedestal.

That would have to be a pretty incredible counterbalace machine, like a giant Swiss clock.

And it would sacrifice the Unisphere being "open air" in the middle, save for support cables. Come to think of it, it would interfere with those support cables.

HERE IS A TRIVIA QUESTION- since they had to lock down the Unisphere in a particular point in its natural rotation, and tilted at the standard earth tilt, they had a choice on which way to "point" the north pole tilt, with no apparent engineering issues- they could have pointed it toward any direction on the compass.

So did they choose to point it toward a particular geographical point, or align it with streets or something? WHY is it pointed the direction it is today?

I suspect it was so that the United States would be visible from a point in the park where more people congregated than anywhere else. Has anybody ever heard the story? Or maybe there WAS an engineering aspect- minimizing wind pressure on the continental surfaces, so they pointed the tilt such that the most common wind direction would strike the least continental surface and just pass through the Unisphere's open framework? You'd think you'd need a supercomputer to calculate that, but those guys back then did some amazing things with their slide rules and abacuses.

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I would think that the prevailing wind direction would determine the final position of the Unisphere.

The direction isn't much of a mystery since LaGuardia airport is only a couple of miles away and THEY certainly have historical data on the prevailing winds. Wind load must have been one major headache for the Unisphere engineers. Couldn't afford to be wrong about it!

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I would bet the Unisphere's alignment optimizes the viewing prospects from the Avenues radiating from it. How else would one position the globe to achieve that end? Note the unphotogenic South Pacific tilts toward the nearby NYCP, whereas the continents wrap around, presenting a more attractive, familar face to viewers from the US Pavilion, Bell System, and Astral Fountain.

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See this topic for calculations of the exact tilt:

http://www.peacethroughunderstanding.com/i...104&hl=tilt

(go towards the end where the corrected math is posted)

As mentioned above, this does not determine the compass directiion of the tilt. I think it would not have been picked for prevailing winds, since they always MIGHT be from jus the wrong direction, but for best view from a distance (the NYCP is too close, so why not give it the worst view)

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Gettin' back to that/those Leisure World Unisphere's, it has to be more than a coincidence or just an attention getter that the continents were stair stepped contours like the USS version. I thought Bill would instantly know the connection, like if you subtract 1 from the number of letters in each word of "Leisure World" you get 64!

To make up for getting so far off orbit on the subject Sunsphere with Unisphere here it is again in context with the Galaxie:

296375636_dnBJh-L.jpg

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Another shot from early 1982, with the Fair site still under construction. The sign on the Sunsphere reads "Bohem Architectural Enclosures".

As fate would have it for this avid NYWF aficionado: my wife was a waitress at Hardee's Sunsphere restaurant while at UT! More stories and images to come as I put together a Knoxville photo gallery.

297517395_CTPG5-L.jpg

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Halloween 1982 the last day of the Fair, Hardee's restaurant on the Sunsphere's fourth level. The booth in this evening shot can be seen in the publicity photo.

299408106_YEHrm-L.jpg

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