Few things in life are more appealing to architects than a beautiful model. It is no wonder, then, that the Panorama of New York City at the Queens Museum leaves me wide-eyed, with my jaw somewhere near the floor: This extraordinary miniature metropolis, created for the 1964 World Fair and expertly crafted across its entire 10,000-square-foot span, is packed with detailed replicas of some of the most iconic landmarks on the planet.
The city was modeled at a scale of 1 inch to 100 feet – shockingly large when you consider its level of detail and scope. This means the Empire State Building stands tall at 15 inches, the Statue of Liberty measures 3 inches from ground to torch, and Central Park stretches a mighty 11 feet across the room.
The only thing more astounding than the detailed photographs of this epic undertaking — commissioned by Curbed for a recent feature on the model — are those of its creators at Lester and Associates model makers, revealing the painstaking work that went into crafting the vast installation. Each of the 35,000 buildings was carved out of wood, and carefully painted by hand to match its real-world counterpart.
As Curbed reports, there is currently a debate around how to treat the model in the coming years. Some believe it should be protected as a historical artifact, frozen in time as an ode to New York’s rich architectural heritage — including the twin towers of Minoru Yamasaki’s World Trade Center, which stand as a poignant reminder of the city’s past. Others believe the model should be continually updated, echoing the dynamic, forward-thinking city it represents.
Whatever happens, the model will continue to be a source of education and inspiration for all who visit: As Queens Museum Registrar and Archives Manager Louise Weinberg states, “Museums are repositories of artifacts and dreams and aspirations.” The New York City Panorama certainly encapsulates all three of those in a single awesome entity.