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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

USSR Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair

In 1958 the Belgian city of Brussels hosted the World's Fair. The USSR had what was by all accounts a spectacular pavilion from the building itself -- which was nicknamed the Crystal Palace -- to the truly impressive inner staircase to the grand hall with sculptures of an industrial and a farm worker with inscriptions that read "The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is a Socialist State of the Workers and Farmers"

Here we pay a visit to the pavilion through a number of photos and an article that was first published in USSR Magazine in August, 1958. The pavilion had many different exhibits including about the Soviet space program, automobiles, aircraft, art, stamps, industry and more. Also on display was a "model of towering Moscow University, a vertical , self -contained city with 40,000 rooms -- dorms, classrooms, laboratories, lecture halls -- big enough in area to contain a town of some 50,000 population."

There was, of course, a very large statue of Lenin.


At the Brussels World's Fair they call the Soviet Pavilion the crystal palace. It is a luminous structure built of steel, aluminum and glass, 72 feet tall , 492 feet long and 236 feet wide. You ascend the broad stairs to a great open portico where 15 flags, one for each of the Soviet Republics, flutter in the breeze. Above the entrance, the metal letters URSS ( the French abbreviation for Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ) glint against the opaque glass.

You enter the huge hall bright with red and silver columns. The eye is drawn everywhere at once, to the brilliant frescoes glorifying labor, to the majestic sculptured figures of a worker and a farm woman, to the big machines, to the models of the first sputniks to be launched into outer space . And at the far end of the hall stands the giant figure of Lenin.

Lenin. Note the aircraft cutaway models in the background.

Displayed on the three floors of the Pavilion are eighteen major exhibits - samplings of

every aspect of Soviet life.

Industry, Farming and Science

The largest is a picture of industry - metallurgy, chemicals, oil, electric power. Models, charts, and complete operating machines and installations show progress in engineering, development in automation, the industrial direction of the future. At every machine stand technicians ready to answer questions in three languages -- French, English and Flemish -- and to give each interested visitor a souvenir a detail turned out by the machine he is looking at.

A display of Soviet airliners

The Industry Exhibit spreads outside to the open air. Here is a completely mechanized and operating coal mine, an installation for drilling mine shafts, another for sinking two oil wells simultaneously. This open-air exhibit always draws throngs of visitors even though it is distance removed from the Pavilion.

The Agriculture Exhibit is a dramatic picture of the huge scope of virgin land cultivation, of mechanized farming, of rural electrification. Here is the scale model of a collective farm. A push of a button lights up barns, stables, machinery and the rest of the farm's equipment.

The Science Exhibit is an almost continuous display of great achievements. There are the sputniks, of course, and pictures of the first dog space-traveler, and models of sputniks of the future. But there are also exhibits of comparable scientific achievements in astronomy, optics, automation, computing machine development and a host of other fields.

Sputnik and Soviet space display

Education and Art

The most striking display in the exhibit on Soviet education is the model of towering Moscow University, a vertical , self -contained city with 40,000 rooms -- dorms, classrooms, laboratories, lecture halls -- big enough in area to contain a town of some 50,000 population.

The unified educational system of the country is shown, its links from pre-school training through university, illustrating 40 years of progress in which mass illiteracy has been replaced by an annual enrollment of more than 30 million pupils in schools and two million students in colleges and universities.

The Art Exhibit seems like a haven of silence after the bustle of the other display areas. Visitors move slowly from one painting to another, exchange quiet impressions or sit for a while to rest and listen to the music of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, or to Russia folk melodies played as harmonious back ground for the vivid imagery of the canvases.

On the lower floor one of the centers of attention is a great 280 -pound globe of carved chocolate, a masterpiece of the confectioner's art, surrounded by a tempting display of wines and table delicacies that may be sampled in the restaurant on the first floor.

Next- Door Neighbors

The achievements, wealth , talents and skills of the peoples of 50 countries are on view at the Fair. The participation of the two "giants,” as the Belgian press refers to the United States and the Soviet Union, has given the Fair a special character and interest.

Our two countries are next-door neighbors at this world exposition, and perhaps a hopeful forecast for the future -- there is a free flow of visitors from one to the other, of Soviet people through the American Pavilion and the other way round. Comparisons are made, virtues and omissions in one or the other of the displays discussed, but completely without rancor. This is an interested and sympathetic exchange of reactions -- competition of a desirable sort, both Soviet and American visitors seem to be saying.

Alexei Ivanov, an electronics engineer from Leningrad, is impressed with American color

television. Talking to the attendant at the display booth, he says: “We Russians still have some way to go to catch up with you people there."

Soviet film director Roman Grigoriev is very much taken with the American circarama. “ It creates a wonderful illusion of audience participation,” he comments.

Natalia Solovyova, dress designer at the Moscow Fashion House, says of the American

gowns: “They’re a little too extreme for my taste --- put me in mind of 1923 styles. But I did like a number of the less extreme designs, which I hope to present to Soviet women .

Young architect Alexei Knyazev commented on the design of the American Pavilion.“ It's a fine design for display purposes, but I don't think the exhibits give as broad a picture of America as they could if there were more of them and if they were better grouped."

They Liked What They Saw

The Soviet Pavilion is host daily to Americans of the most diverse interests and occupations — tourists on a European vacation, newspaper correspondents, businessmen, engineers, soldiers and officers on duty in Germany.

Harold Stewart, president of an Oklahoma radio and television company, went through the Soviet Pavilion with two other Americans who are presidents of oil companies. They were much interested in drilling installations, asked questions, took a bookful of notes, snapped photos, and crawled under and around and over the machines for a closer view.

George Samuelson, a California executive, wrote this comment in the Pavilion's guest book: “I haven't seen such excellent equipment in all my 45 years in the oil industry."

Dr. Raymond Henry of Stamford, Connecticut, is in Europe to see his son, who is in the army. He went through the medical exhibit at the Soviet Pavilion and was much impressed with our free public health system. He hadn't been aware of the extent of free services covering every phase of treatment and was much surprised to learn that a worker gets up to 90 per cent of his pay during illness.

W. Le Baron, a New York student now serving with the American forces in Germany, visited the Fair with his girl friend. They both liked the art exhibit especially. “Doris and I,” said Le Baron, “spent a wonderful day. We came away with an armful of books by modern Russian authors and Russian folk music records."

R. McKinley, a Texas highway construction engineer, spent a lot of time looking over road construction machines, oil drilling derricks, the big atom- smasher model." It was a couple-of-hour trip to the Soviet Union,” he said on leaving. “After seeing the Soviet Pavilion, I must get to see the country itself.”

As you walk from one exhibit to another, you can hear comments on the various displays in the Soviet Pavilion. Some are complimentary, some critical. But on one thing everybody agrees, and that is that this is a good way for people to get to know more about each other.



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