Celebrating Airport Design

Sophisticated.  Elegant.  Exciting.  No one who has flown commercial airlines lately would use those words to describe his or her experience.

But in the 1950s and 1960s, air travel was the zenith of glamour.  And nowhere was that more apparent than in the new airports built during the era.

Designed to evoke a space-age, futuristic world,  mid-century airports have been widely heralded for their architectural innovation.

Next time you’re at New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport,  formerly Idlewild, check out the Jet Blue Terminal #5, which remains alive with the graceful curves delineated by Eero Saarinen for TWA in 1962.

Still modern, these creamy swoops and dips continue to evoke the magic of manned flight even for the most jaded of travelers.

At the time, Idlewild Airport was the most technically advanced and visually exciting airport in the country, being the first to move (and lose) luggage on carousels.

Influenced by Minoru Yamasaki’s futuristic design for Lambert Field (STL) in St Louis in 1956, itself based on the Roman Baths of Caracalla, Saarinen’s New York terminal was not his first.

In 1958, the Finnish-born architect designed Dulles (IAD) International Airport outside Washington, DC.  Unfortunately, though, Idlewild would be his last; he died in 1960, one year before it was completed.

When McCarran (LAS) International Airport in Las Vegas opened in 1963, it was considered an engineering and architectural marvel. Its vast vaulted roof had no interior supporting columns.  It’s a credit to the architect Welton Becket that his terminal building still stands today.

Opened in 1965, Spokane (GEG) International Airport was featured in  Architecture West magazine. Designed by Warren C. Heylman and William Trogdon, its Neo-Expressionism style made judicious use of poured concrete, molded into the biomorphic forms so typical of the period.

The City of Angels always feels like a theme park, so it’s no surprise that the landmark of Los Angeles (LAX) International Airport is its 1961 Theme Building, designed by Pereira and Luckmann. Its signature 135-foot-high arches   — think a Louise Bourgeois spider sculpture meets a War of the Worlds flying saucer,

Although it features no Goofy Burgers on the menu, the Encounter restaurant, designed in the mid-90s by Walt Disney Imagineering, offers panoramic views of the airport before you submit to the mercies of TSA security or fling yourself onto the Santa Monica Freeway.

This article previously appeared in MidCenturyFolio.com

1 comment for “Celebrating Airport Design

  1. October 12, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    I found this article fascinating. Although we’re no longer like this North America: “But in the 1950s and 1960s, air travel was the zenith of glamour.” I’ve noticed in Asia airports such as in Singapore, Hong Kong and Seoul are state of the art and modern.

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