Tuesday, August 17, 2010

You Have Arrived--Flight 172

At long last, here is the huge project to which I've made reference a few times. It's a follow-up to my story about JFK Airport from a couple years ago and a more in-depth look at its architecture.

I've now had the opportunity to visit the greatest gateway in the United States twice, just for the pure pleasure of doing so. The first time was by train, starting from another important structure in the story, Walter Gropius' Pan Am Building (now MetLife, 1962). My second, more recent trip was by car.

--Google Maps view.
Arrival by automobile is sort of like riding a kiddy roller coaster at an amusement park--but without the fun part. This is not to say that the signage isn't terrifically clear and easy to follow, but the arrangement of the roadways defies all common sense. Having driven around "Terminal City" most of the afternoon, I finally feel that I have some concept of how it's all laid out, and I'm sure seasoned taxi drivers are comfortable with it. For the occasional traveler, it's something of a mess.

It was admittedly before my time, but I can't help but pine for so intuitive a notion as a simple oval roadway dotted by well-placed terminals, as it was originally conceived. I'm sure employees who arrive by car know the tricks, but getting from one place to another inside the airport is a nightmare. Every time I left a terminal, I had to exit the airport entirely, go around that South Service Road, and enter again. I must have done that seven times.

Building 72: First National City Bank (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1959)

Click for larger views.
--All JFK photos ©2010, Ryan Witte, unless otherwise noted. I reserve all rights to them, but please do contact me if you'd like to use any of them.
My first stop was this glorious little bank, which I had seen only in photographs and for a split second passing by it on the AirTrain. Construction workers are fixing up the building. Obviously, things aren't looking so clean, but in my opinion, Citibank should be proud of the fact that they're taking good care of such a lovely and under-appreciated building.

As much of the work of Gordon Bunshaft, head of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) at the time, this bank is a truly marvelous example of International Style Modernism. But of course, Bunshaft was also responsible for one of the most wonderfully innovative examples of bank architecture, the Manufacturers Trust Company at Fifth Avenue and Forty-Third Street.

Though quite modestly sized, this bank has very suave proportions and is wonderfully sleek. Raised up off the ground on thin steel pillars, it appears to float on the horizon in a quite magical way. It was functional, though: the open ground level was originally intended to accommodate drive-in services.

There's something very Miesian about that, as well.

As Ada Louise Huxtable has said, SOM were and are the absolute masters of the curtain wall. This building shows off their skills to great effect.

The structure of the building--that is, the row of steel piers--has been pulled apart from the glass enclosure. Structure and enclosure become rationally two separate functions of the architecture.

The interior--accessed by a floating double staircase--is sparse and shiny in a deliciously 1950s sort of way.

Ironically, although it isn't even an airline terminal, this was where I encountered the most staunch resistance to my camera. This was an over-zealous construction worker with delusions of CIA involvement. Not only did he give me a good talking to, but very nearly grabbed me by the scruff of the neck to drag me bodily into the bank manager's office upstairs. The manager was very nice, but I could tell he needed some assuaging before he'd be comfortable with the idea that I was there only to appreciate the architecture of his workplace (which I'm fairly certain he'd never considered before).

Part 2.

©2010, Ryan Witte

1 comment:

yvonne Forte said...

testing this at my lesson