Friday, August 20, 2010

You Have Arrived--Flight 203

Terminal 1: Eastern Airlines (Chester L. Churchill, 1959)

Chester L. Churchill has fallen well into obscurity, and evidently this forgettable building didn't help. He was also a tugboat, though, by the way. His T1 was demolished when Eastern dissolved. The new building, designed by William Nicholas Bodouva & Associates and completed in 1998, is alright but mostly uninteresting. I skipped it. I was admittedly more interested in the original mid-century buildings, anyway.

Terminal 2: Braniff International, Northeast, and Northwest Orient (White & Mariani, 1961)

At the moment, construction barriers obscure Terminal 2. Likely the best thing about it is its entryway, a group of hexagonal roof platforms on stilts vaguely reminiscent of Wright's Johnson Wax Building (though not nearly as sophisticated). It's now operated by Delta, which acquired both Northeast and Northwest Orient. Braniff, the coolest airline to ever fly, is sadly gone. My first terminal was Terminal 3.

Terminal 3: The Worldport (Tippets, Abbett, McCarthy, Stratton--now TAMS Architects, 1960)

--All JFK photos ©2010, Ryan Witte, unless otherwise noted.
The name of this one says it all: The Worldport. I can't imagine a name that more perfectly sums up this golden age of air travel; it could truly be, for the first time in transportation history, a gateway to the entire planet. Built for Pan American World Airways, the colossus of the industry, it's now the home of Delta Air Lines, which purchased most of the assets when Pan Am was going bankrupt in 1991.

The Worldport is a truly spectacular building.

The rumor is that it's at risk of being demolished by Delta. The project was supposed to begin this summer, but there it still stands. I will admit that it very much needs some tender loving care, but no way should it be razed. The underside of the four-acre canopy appears a little bit pockmarked but otherwise has held up remarkably well.

The minuscule interior is arguably in worse shape than the exterior. When its entire elliptical volume was both unobstructed by interior structures and freely navigated, it was no doubt far more majestic. As it stands now, it's chopped in half by ticket counters and cluttered with security checkpoints. As soon as you walk in the door, you can barely take two steps before colliding with something. As merely a grand entrance lobby on a much larger, expanded terminal, this room would be glorious. At the moment, it looks like it's about the burst at the seams.

The windows are a bit grimy and really ought to be replaced. The ceiling is stained with what appears to be water damage. Then there are these weird flag things with rope (tubes?) hanging from them that appear to be either trying to conceal air ducts or some kind of badly conceived art installation. Possibly they collect water from leaks in the roof.

An intervention to save this terminal would have to be very careful, however. While the original terminal would be beautiful as an entrance lobby, a renovation would do it great justice to allow some planes to be boarded under the canopy as originally intended.

If it could, for certain T3 could boast the shortest walk from gate to airplane of any terminal in the world. Likely, with security as tight as it's become, this wouldn't be possible. My idea was to allow express service for top frequent flyers to quickly board commuter planes here with some kind of high-tier ID card, and send the regular passengers into the larger terminal to the rear. TAMS also designed the expansion behind this building in 1976.

The AirTrain structure here is not as much a huge blight on the vista--though it definitely is--as it is so very out of place, stylistically.

Thoughtful architecture could have made the AirTrain construction a seamless part of the older structures. Instead, the new battles with the old, and quite inelegantly. The airport had been sharply criticized from the very beginning as being a disconnected hodgepodge of architectural confusion. The construction of the AirTrain was one last opportunity to pull the wildly disparate architecture into a cohesive whole once and for all. This opportunity was entirely lost.

Also now gone are Milton Hebald's sculpture Zodiac Screen for the enormous glass wind buffer that now announces Delta's residency.

--Photo courtesy Life, obviously.
It was the largest sculpture grouping of its kind in the world at the time and is now allegedly owned and stored by the New York Transit Authority. [I say "of its kind," because the people calling it simply "the largest sculpture in the world" have clearly never heard of either this or this, or for that matter, this.] Aside from the reference to the skies, I'm not sure I see the relevance of the Zodiac signs here, although I suppose they were a better choice of mythological subject than the story of Icarus.

It was around the Worldport, also, that I took notice of the landscaping.

There's not much land left to scape, and visually it pales pathetically in comparison to Wallace Harrison's original plans. But I was pleased to see that the small amount of landscaping that remains is quite lush, very well maintained, and as pleasing to the eye as it can manage under the circumstances.

Giving me a hard time about photography at this terminal was another paranoid construction worker. The irony this time being that I wasn't even anywhere near the building, particularly, but rather facing out a window from inside the AirTrain station. I found this to be the most bizarre thing about the nature of security at JFK...

Part 3.

©2010, Ryan Witte

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