Document Type



Early twentieth-century American culture coded air space as the next variant of the Western frontier, and two distinct iterations of frontier-themed 1930s city aerofuturism fascinated—and discursively linked—authors, designers, engineers, and policy makers during the interwar period. In select pulp fiction of the early 1930s, the air became a place for imagined homesteading atop striking sky cities, which appear prominently in Hugo Gernsback’s publication Air Wonder Stories and reveal complex lineages to historic architectures. When these floating structures devolve into sites of annihilation they mirror the clear threat of an impending global war that would be heavily determined by air force. Subsequently, the sky city dream was reborn in the prophetic, hyper-utopian aerofuturist conurbations at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. Equally built upon the geographic idea of the American frontier, with massive, detailed cities viewed from the air or lifted into the sky, the aerial built environments at the fair avoided Byzantine integrations with the preexisting city. Instead, the World’s Fair offered radical futures erected from terra firma that was abstracted from any existing towns and cities. Built upon broad expanses of undeveloped earth, the exhibits Democracity, Focal Exhibit #5, and Futurama in particular moved spectators away from an air war analogue by radically erasing the past. Shifting beyond the fatalism of the earlier air pulp fiction, and cloaked in the architecture of pristine optimism, the air view of the World’s Fair’s key structures ultimately created a comforting psychological elevation for citizens anticipating the destruction of cities worldwide.