Sunday, January 08, 2006

the genius of Saarinen

Ordinarily I wouldn't discuss architecture on this blog, but the works of Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen deserve attention. While he designed other works such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and Kresge Auditorium at MIT in Cambridge, my personal favorite work of Saarinen would have to be Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia (just outside of Washington, DC). Completed in 1962, when commercial jet travel was still in its infancy, the main terminal building truly captures the excitement and grace of flight with its gentle curves and swooping roof. The building is massive and something akin to what one would see depicted in an episode of The Jetsons.

The original building was extended on either end in the 1990s to reach the length as shown above. Remaining faithful to Saarinen's original artwork, the designers of the expansion artfully blended the extensions into the original structure such that the old and the new are almost indistinguishible. A view of the rooftop gives away the newly constructed ends.

The control tower is a work of art in itself, resembling a jewel from a gaudy ring or a hat worn by a cocktail waitress at a retro lounge.

Upgrades to the airport, including improvements to the separate concourse buildings and the replacement of the airport's antiquated (but at the time of construction, ultra-modern) people mover system, termed "lounges", which utilize large-tired vehicles to transport passengers from the main terminal to their concourse. Rarely would one have an opportunity to face moving aircraft at eye level, as these vehicles share the apron with taxiing aircraft.

Other airports around the country pay homage to Saarinen's Dulles design. One that comes to mind immediately is Boston-Logan International Airport's Terminal C, which serves US Airways, Jetblue, Continental, United, and others. Below is the ticketing area, which sports a swooping ceiling not unlike that of Dulles...

It's too bad that Dulles is an absolute bitch of a place if you are unfortunate enough to have to fly through it. It takes what seems like an eternity to get from your parked car to your gate.

1962 was also the year of the opening of TWA Terminal at Idlewild (since renamed JFK) International Airport in NYC. Also designed by Saarinen, it resembles a bird about to take flight.

Like Dulles, this terminal was ahead of it's time. However, a large clock hanging from the center of the ceiling is reminiscent of what one would find in a large passenger train terminal. After TWA folded, the building sat vacant for a few years, but it is currently planned to be integrated with another existing terminal for use by Jetblue. I am not sure if it is currently under construction, though.

I feel that people underappreciate these buildings. A person's main objective at an airport is to get in and out (flying out, that is) as soon as possible. However, one should put into perspective the feeling about airline travel when these buildings were originally opened. Flying on a jet airplane was a new experience, a luxury for most people. These buildings certainly express that excitement and enthusiasm for the future of air travel.


Blogger Phlip said...

Great pics.

8:14 AM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

Have you seen the film "My Architect"? Thumbs up or down?

10:01 AM  

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