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A Modern Masterpiece, No Longer Used, Will Soon Disappear at Kennedy Airport

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A Modern Masterpiece, No Longer Used, Will Soon Disappear at Kennedy Airport

| architects, architecture, architecture critic | October 07, 2011

While ABC has conspicuously begun to celebrate the early jet age, the Port Authority has begun to tear it down.

Terminal 6 at Kennedy International Airport — a crisp island of aesthetic tranquillity by the master architect I. M. Pei — is being demolished. The boarding gates are already piles of rubble.  The main pavilion, whose white steel roof seems to float ethereally over  cascades of diaphanous green glass, is expected to come down by the end  of October.

Though the demolition has long been planned, the timing now is  unintentionally paradoxical. With the recent debut of the ABC drama “Pan Am,”  it seems safe to say there has never been so much popular interest in  the jet-set era of the 1960s and early ’70s. National Airlines, perhaps  best remembered for christening its jetliners with women’s names and  inviting the public to “fly me,” opened Terminal 6 in 1969 as the  Sundrome.

Within it, Mr. Pei tried to create an environment for travelers that  was serene, generous, clear, spacious, simple and dignified, said Henry N. Cobb, a colleague at Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in New York. To an extent that remains discernible today, he succeeded.  And by its horizontality, Terminal 6 still keeps open a welcome segment  of sky in the ever-more-congested central terminal area at Kennedy.

“It’s very sad,” Mr. Cobb said on Tuesday about the demolition. “The whole thing is very sad.”

Many architects speak of creating transparent spaces. Mr. Pei pulled  it off.

Sophisticated, subtle engineering made this transparency possible.  The main pavilion of Terminal 6 has a deep roof truss that rests on 16  enormous cylindrical concrete columns. That eliminated the need for  load-bearing walls, which allowed Mr. Pei to design a pioneering  all-glass enclosure. One can look straight through the building and out  the other side. Rain is drained off the roof through the columns,  eliminating the need for any visible ductwork.

In its classical restraint, Mr. Cobb said, Terminal 6 splendidly  complements the expressionistic bravura of Eero Saarinen’s landmark  Trans World Airlines Flight Center next door, which has been preserved and rehabilitated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, at a cost of more  than $20 million, and is to be incorporated into a hotel and conference  center planned on the site.

Mr. Cobb said the Terminal 6 pavilion is “structurally sound and has proved highly adaptable to changing demands throughout four decades of use” by National, which was acquired in 1980 by Pan American World Airways; by T.W.A., as an annex to the Saarinen terminal; and, finally, by JetBlue Airways, which moved into its own terminal in 2008.

Nine months ago, Mr. Cobb pleaded for a “reversal of this death sentence” from David Barger, the president and chief executive of JetBlue. “Conserved and reanimated, the Terminal 6 pavilion would further strengthen the distinctive identity of JetBlue as a sponsor of design excellence and an effective advocate for a sustainable future,” Mr. Cobb wrote. “I. M. Pei joins me in thanking you for your consideration of this request.”

No reprieve was forthcoming. “While I share your passion for classic terminal designs, I have concluded the time has passed for the pavilion building to serve any functional purpose,” Mr. Barger wrote back. He thanked Pei Cobb Freed “for your influence on JetBlue’s first decade” and promised to champion a “permanent display of the pavilion photographs and other architectural artifacts so future generations can continue to appreciate the beauty of Terminal 6.”

National took out a full-page ad in The New York Times of Dec. 2, 1969 to announce the opening of the terminal.

The Port Authority said the Terminal 6 site must be cleared to make room for “improvements that will better serve travelers and help reduce delays,” meaning additional boarding gates and aircraft parking spots for JetBlue’s Terminal 5. Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the authority, said that maintaining a vacant Terminal 6 was costing the authority $600,000 a year.

Given Mr.Pei’s stature — he is perhaps best known for the pyramid-crowned addition to the Louvre — the demolition of Terminal 6 may rank as the most significant loss of a transportation building in New York since Pennsylvania Station was razed in the 1960s.

Source: The NYT

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About the author

After working at various design practices on a full-time and freelance basis, and starting his own design firm, David McFadden saw that there was a gap to be filled in the industry. In 1984, he created an expansive hub for architects and hiring firms to sync up, complete projects, and mutually benefit. That hub was Consulting For Architects Inc., which enabled architects to find meaningful design work, while freeing hiring firms from tedious hiring-firing cycles. This departure from the traditional, more rigid style of employer-employee relations was just what the industry needed - flexibility and adaption to modern work circumstances. David has successfully advised his clients through the trials and tribulations of four recessions – the early 80’s, the early 90’s, the early 2000’s, and the Great Recession of 2007.

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