Sketching the future: the U.S. Pavilion at Expo 1985 Tsukuba

Sketching the future: the U.S. Pavilion at Expo 1985 Tsukuba

After serving as U.S. Pavilion Exhibits Director at Expo 1984 in New Orleans, I left the Commerce Department and joined the U.S. Information Agency as Exhibits Director for the U.S. Pavilion at Expo 1985 in the Japanese city of Tsukuba. Our family, my wife and two sons aged five and one arrived in December 1984. The theme of the expo was "Dwellings and Surroundings - Science and Technology for Man at Home" and our pavilion took Artificial Intelligence as its theme. Expo 1985 ran from 17 March to 16 September. It was ranked a huge success with 20,334,727 visitors attending and 111 countries participating, plus an impressive array of 18 corporate pavilions featuring state of the art technology including robots and giant screen presentations.

The 3,000m2 US Pavilion at Expo 1985 was in a generic building provided by the organisers, situated on a 5,000m2 plot at the north-western corner of the Expo grounds. It consisted of two courtyards, two plazas and three separate buildings: Theme Pavilion, Theatre and Corporate Pavilion. The larger and taller theme pavilion to the right and the smaller Corporate Pavilion to the left were both housed under cable tensioned polymer fabric roofs. Between them was a Trapezoid Theatre where “To Think”, a 15-minute film by Joseph Aloysius Becker, was shown. The corporate building which also included a restaurant and a gift shop housed exhibits by Texas Instruments, DuPont, Polaroid and TRW. The idea of separating out the corporate section was new to our pavilions and worked well. The Federal budget for the pavilion was US $9,535,962. Attendance totalled five million visitors.

“Aaron” the sketch-bot was of great interest at the US Pavilion at Tsukuba Expo 85. Here, the Emperor of Japan watches.

In addition to the stand-up “To Think” theatre, we had a Children’s Learning Lab, an Artificial Intelligence stage performance, the first transistor, a Kurzweil music synthesizer, and “Aaron”, a machine that drew original sketches. VIP visitors included Japanese Emperor Hirohito and Prime Minister Nakasone. The exhibits were designed by Herb Rosenthal in Los Angeles and were fabricated and installed by Nomura Displays in Japan. Boston Light and Sound provided the theatre equipment and operation.

The pavilion’s restaurant was primarily a steak house but we added to that a take-out window that sold beignets using the same preparation as the Café Du Monde in New Orleans. The take-out window was so popular that the line of people waiting for a beignet was often as long as the line of people waiting to get into the pavilion.

In the US Pavilion at Tsukuba Expo 85, Japan Prime Minister Nakasone and company watch “Aaron” the robot draw.

For my family, who accompanied me on all of my Expo adventures, it was an outstanding opportunity. My then five-year-old son attended a Japanese kindergarten and became fluent in Japanese. Our younger son had his first birthday there and my wife had many young mothers as friends in our apartment building. The Japanese diet and walking left us in the best physical shape ever.

The U.S. Pavilion at Expo 1985 Tsukuba (from 1:53)

This text initially appeared as part of “Tales from the Expo,” an InPark Magazine online book written by James Ogul and edited by Judith Rubin.

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