New York photographer Robert E. Coates took this series of ten black and white photographs of the Australian Pavilion at the New York World's Fair in 1939. This was the first time that architects and designers collaborated to develop a pavilion that reflected the state of Australian modernism. Sydney architects, Stephenson & Turner, worked with graphic designer Douglas Annand to create a flowing, multi-level space that integrated sculpture, photography, murals and displays about flora, fauna and industry.
Recently recruited to Stephenson & Turner, John Oldham (1907-1999) became the principal architect of the pavilion. He worked closely with Annand, who designed striking montages for both the structure and the accompanying pamphlet. Although the pair experienced unprecedented freedom in the process, they were accountable to a committee that included artist and publisher Sydney Ure Smith, government representative Harold Souter, and head of the Australian National Travel Association Charles Holmes.
The series of photographs illustrates the key architectural and graphic elements of the pavilion, including three pylons with illuminated photomontages that represented a healthy and modern nation. Also depicted are photographs by Max Dupain, including a large aerial view of Sydney Harbour, montages of tropical fish by Adrian Feint, artwork by Margaret Preston, and promotional vignettes by Dahl and Geoffrey Collings. The physical structure reflects elements of Stephenson & Turner's pioneering work in hospital design, including grey rubber flooring that incorporates directional signage, strip-lighting and a two-tone inlay that denoted pathways.
The English journal 'Architectural Review' commended the pavilion for its mural displays and the involvement of some leading Australian modernists. Its success set a new and creative tone for future Australian pavilions. (Ann Stephen and Philip Goad, 'Electric Signs and Spectacles' in 'Modern Times: the untold story of modernism in Australia', Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2008)