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Sundrome No More
October 6, 2011 3:08 PM   Subscribe

Known as The Sundrome , I.M. Pei's Terminal 6 at JFK Airport (b. 1970) has been slated for demolition.
posted by beisny (48 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
“Spaciousness. Generosity. Dignity. Calm. Order. Precision. Restraint,” Cobb said. “These are qualities that people who are having to deal with the stresses of travel appreciate.”

I don't know. I remember flying out of Terminal 6 on JetBlue and I don't think any of those words came to mind. Words I can think of: Cramped, crowded, confusing, and long walks. I really don't understand architecture when it seems like so much thought is put into every aspect except for usability.

The new Terminal 5, on the other hand, is pretty nice.
posted by bleep at 3:18 PM on October 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


The American tradition of dismantling our architectural heritage continues. What a disaster.

never actually been in terminal 6, so can't offer an opinion on anything beyond aesthetic/cultural significance
posted by Think_Long at 3:21 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really don't understand architecture when it seems like so much thought is put into every aspect except for usability.

Usability in 1970 was very different than usability in 2011 with today's security contraints, but the whole point is that the building could be adapted. From the article:

“This is not pure greed...This is the myopic view of engineers. They just can’t figure out how to reuse it and they don’t put enough value on it to figure out how to reuse it.” - Henry Cobb
posted by beisny at 3:26 PM on October 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


JFK is a bus terminal. I would like Pei's thoughts on this, but he might agree that it's time to build something modern and useful to future generations.
posted by parmanparman at 3:29 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


But on the plus side, I knocked over the Sunsphere drome.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 3:31 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


but he might agree that it's time to build something modern and useful to future generations.

I imagine that it what he was thinking in 1970...
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:34 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lots of great architecture has been knocked down over the centuries. Whether this particular building is worth of preservation, it has the unfortunate fate of being right where there are no alternatives to demolotion.

Also, I recall having walked past it whist lost at JFK the last time I flew through and walking between terminals... it gave the feeling of a one-groundbreaking modernist design that simply seemed tired now. Whether it's genius or not, it's definitely worn out.
posted by GuyZero at 3:35 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meh, it's no TWA Flight Center.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:36 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


JFK certainly has some cool buildings, I love TWA's terminal, I think it is used by Jet Blue now after sitting vacant for years.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:40 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Doh
posted by Ad hominem at 3:40 PM on October 6, 2011


I. M. Pei has had other things torn down. In Denver the "Parallelogram" was torn down in spite of the uproar against it. In the end it was made to rubble, and a boring building replaced it. At least NCAR, though I hate it in front of the flatirons, still stands...
posted by Eekacat at 3:40 PM on October 6, 2011


i really prefer eero saarinen's dulles terminal in washington dc. i think it is a more culturally relevant landmark than the pei terminal at jfk. just sayin.
posted by rude.boy at 3:51 PM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is there something remarkable about this building that I'm not seeing. It seems like invisible industrial architecture. I don't think this is PEI's best work.
posted by humanfont at 3:51 PM on October 6, 2011


> Is there something remarkable about this building that I'm not seeing.

It looks pretty flat and boring in pictures. But the interior openness and lighting, combined with good selection of colors and materials led to a perception of spaciousness that was kind of unique.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 3:55 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I, for one, welcome our new Panopticon Terminal.
posted by swift at 4:04 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's remarkable about the Sundrome is that it was massively technologically innovative. For example, it was the first terminal built to have separate arrival and departure areas on different levels, something that no airport would be without these days. It's also kind of set the tone for airports in the future, especially its huge, spacious glass atrium that is now almost ubiquitous.

At the same time, it's not that visually striking or even really that functional. This kind of architecture is often called utilitarian which implies that it provides utility; not really the case any longer. This design, while innovative, has been outpaced. There are better, more efficient ways of designing airports, even if many of those design strategies grew directly from the ideas presented by this building.

The Sundrome's didactic role will live on even if it is relegated to a page in an I.M. Pei monograph. But do we need to preserve this less than ideal airport terminal to preserve its place in history? Probably not.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 4:06 PM on October 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


I mean, Cobb is comparing it to the TWA terminal, which is a work of sculpture just as much as it is a building. It makes sense to retain that fabulous shell and adapt it to a new function. But a glass box is a glass box.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 4:08 PM on October 6, 2011


I had occasion to use that terminal exactly once, and let me tell you, it was actually... energizing. The feeling one gets moving through such an elegant piece of art is something very, very valuable, and, of course, very rare. Just being there brought me joy and a sense of delight.

These descriptions from the NYT link are very apt:

"a crisp island of aesthetic tranquillity" ... "serene, generous, clear, spacious, simple and dignified"

It was all that.

It'll be a real shame to lose this building.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:10 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


> It has been occupied at various times by Trans World Airlines (domestic flights), Pan American World Airways, United Air Lines (domestic flights), Pan American Airways (1996-1998), Carnival Airlines and Vanguard Airlines.

Maybe they just want to get rid of it because it's jinxed.
posted by ardgedee at 4:11 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


But yeah, at the end of the day, it'd be worse to lose the TWA terminal, which is just totally fucking cool.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:14 PM on October 6, 2011


The I.M. Pei dorms at New College (Sarasota) will be sticking around, I'd wager. They are pretty cool. (Don't think I've been through/past the Sundome.)
posted by Glinn at 4:16 PM on October 6, 2011


*drome
posted by Glinn at 4:16 PM on October 6, 2011


But yeah, at the end of the day, it'd be worse to lose the TWA terminal, which is just totally fucking cool.

And not just on the outside. It's a delight. I've rarely called people from the airport just to gush about how awesome it is. Relics of the past are nice, but airports aren't museums. They're functional spaces and need to retain that functionality.
posted by bleep at 4:16 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's like that IKEA commercial where the guy is like, "Don't be sad for the lamp. It's just a lamp, it doesn't have feelings." It's a building. It once served a purpose. Time marched past it and it no longer served its purpose. Whatever JetBlue did to its insides made it into a nightmare. JetBlue camped out in their like refugees.
posted by bleep at 4:20 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a crime. I've seen friends off there, watched them walk down that sweet futuristic tunnel announcing a new phase. And walked down that sweet tunnel myself feeling like James Motherfuckin' Bond and incredulous actually that something so frigging cool and empowering even still exists in a world where every good thing needs to be turned to shit and taken way so assholes can make more money on ruining the landscape with more disposable architecture.

Fuck' em. Fuck' em all.
posted by Skygazer at 5:24 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


How does someone make more money? The building isn't remotely efficient anymore. This isn't Penn Station--it's 70s Brutalist.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:32 PM on October 6, 2011


Errr....oh wait terminal 6?? Oh yeah, that building's so brutalist ugly.

I thought it was Terminal 5, which is actually I just learned doing quite well, cool futuristic James Bond connecting tunnels and all and happily occupied by Jet Blue and architected by the appropriately named Eero Saarinen who beats out I.M. PEI anyday!!

Please disregard previous comment. kthxbye.
posted by Skygazer at 5:40 PM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


we will no longer have any modernism left will we
posted by PinkMoose at 5:45 PM on October 6, 2011


Personally, I thought the building was a delightful space -- delicate and light (from the inside more than the out, obv.). A deft touch behind all the details. And for an airport terminal? Places which usually only fill one with annoyance, or Teh Rage? Terminal 6 was a remarkable achievement, all the more so because it could only be compared to Terminal 5 next door. Pei met the challenge presented by his neighbour, through control and restraint and deference. Sitting in the second floor lounge, looking out through the wraparound windows to the whole of the airport and all its comings and goings? Marvellous.

And let's not forget that Pei is a master, a Pritzker Prize winner. There are only so many buildings by that calibre of architect out there, and the default should be set towards preservation.

That said, an airport terminal is aviation technology like any other, and this technology is 40+ years old. The building sits on much-needed space. And in setting aside the old, we make room for something new.

But THAT said, tearing it down for (in part) a parking lot? They really can't find a way to repurpose a glass box? Juggle some other airport operations around, and lose some lesser building instead?

There's a real lack of imagination and vision in demolishing it. I don't know what the answer is, but I'm sure there's a better one out there.
posted by Capt. Renault at 5:52 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


This isn't Penn Station--it's 70s Brutalist.

No, it's not. It doesn't even look like Brutalist architecture. Brutalism was heavy, earthy, rooted, solid. This building is transparent, airy, luminous. That's why it was special when it was built at a time when Brutalism was popular. It's still special now, not only because of its historical significance (first extensive use of glass curtain walls, first terminal with departures/arrivals separated by floor ), but because it is still a highly useful building that has the ability to be configured anew.

But a glass box is a glass box.

A glass box is one of the easiest forms to re-use, offering lots of flexibility. The design was meant to be simple and restrained as a response to the jumble of architectural styles already existing at JFK. Pei didn't want to set up more competitive aesthetic tension between buildings. It is meant to be a fairly nondescript volume on the outside, but once you're inside, the view is immense, soaring, uplifting. This building has influenced airports all over the world, and is just as important as the TWA building.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:53 PM on October 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


Every time I have to switch terminals at JFK (with kids, with luggage carts, past all the smokers, over the uneven pavement) I think "Come on. Connecting these buildings via a subway would pay for itself in a year or two." Raze the whole place to the ground and build something sensible.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:12 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Okay, I know, haters gonna hate, but I've never seen what's so great about Pei. He was a big name for a long time, and got a lot of high-profile stuff built, but his work looks to me mostly boring and modern-for-the-sake-of-modern. Okay, the Louvre is neat, but the East Building of the National Gallery? Does anyone love that thing? Terminal 6 looks like nothing special. It looks like a friggin' bank branch. Maybe that's just because he's been so copied, and maybe I'm just mad because in my town they knocked down a beautiful old clock tower to put up one of his boring modern buildings. I'm sure I.M. Pei never cried over the buildings his designs replaced, so I'm not crying for his now.
posted by rikschell at 6:27 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, Terminal 6 is too small to be very useful where it is. Jet Blue had to build a whole other building, equal in size to 6 behind it (which blocked half the glass-wall views--and all the views of actual planes). Then they outgrew that, too. And certainly the style lives on. It's been done over and over, and often better.
posted by rikschell at 6:31 PM on October 6, 2011


Rikschell, as much as I disagree with the actual aims of the international style, and dislike the ideas that he put into circulation, saying you don't get Pei is the architectural equivalent of saying "I just don't understand why everyone makes such a big fuss about the Beatles! Just another bunch of English longhairs, with two guitars, a bass, and a drummer playing blues inspired rock."
He was the first and perhaps one of the best at what he did.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 6:32 PM on October 6, 2011


It's hard to step beyond this type of building's inherent unloveability and help people learn how to appreciate their importance. Also what is the Port Authority planning for the site? So many demoes occur without a plan in place for the site and this building seems emminently adaptable for a new user/airport dance hall. Anyone know if there's a plan?
posted by metaj at 6:38 PM on October 6, 2011


Also likely to be demolished is Terminal 2, the flying saucer Pan Am Worldport, built in 1960. It is set be razed for plane parking space in 2015.

I'm glad Saarinen's TWA Flight Center has been spared, but I'm sad that JFK is losing two other iconic jet-age terminals. That's what I love(d) about JFK -- the airlines could make their own flagship terminals in a way not possible at other airports.
posted by zsazsa at 6:39 PM on October 6, 2011


As nice as the sundrome was, you can't have that real estate empty, and an airport needs gates and space. Perhaps it could've been re-purposed, but to Joe in Australia's point, having a bunch of little terminals might have worked in the 1960s, but not today. JFK has suffered for that for the last 20 years. The Port Authority is actually trying to make few larger terminals the way other airports have. I think the BA terminal (7) is going away too since they are partnered with American for a very large terminal 8. Eventually you'll have terminals 1, 2, 4, 5, and 8. (numbering might be off, but there will be five big terminals.)

As for getting rid of the Pan Am worldport? Good riddance, it hasn't been maintained since about '68, and even though the retro memories are sweet, if you actually have to fly out of there, it is no fun. It is redolent of a bus station in some upstate NY city that has seen many many better days. Smells like it too.

To me, the saddest thing in NY area airport architectural destruction is the old LGA control tower which to me was like a gigantic child's toy of an airport. Of course a new control tower was long overdue,but couldnt they have made a restaurant or lounge out of it. Sort of LAX's "theme" building? It was so cool looking. Did it really need to be dismantled?
posted by xetere at 7:08 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


As long as we're dancing about architecture, I'll throw my opinion (TM) in, as well:

I won't miss it, and I think Pei has always been more successful at securing projects than at designing them.

When they start tearing down Saarinen's public spaces, on the other hand, I will cry (if, god forbid, I should live that long).
posted by trip and a half at 8:24 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


no, we're writing about architecture. That's like dancing about music, right?

No educated opinion about the building, other than to note, as others (like James Lileks), that most of the buildings they're tearing down now replaced other buildings that some preservationist wanted to save. That doesn't make it right or wrong, but it's clear that they can't all be saved. Some of you have commented on the CURRENT condition of buildings that were once showcases. That seems like an architectural fate worse than death.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:48 PM on October 6, 2011


Just to dispel something: architecture can (and should) be talked about. The quote that you are referencing is trying to point out the ridiculousness of talking about music; architecture just happens to be on the other end of the simile. If were were to say "dancing about economics", the point would be the same.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 10:04 PM on October 6, 2011


oneirodynia: "No, it's not. It doesn't even look like Brutalist architecture. Brutalism was heavy, earthy, rooted, solid. This building is transparent, airy, luminous."

Just because it often is does not mean that Brutalism is defined by those traits. The Geisel Library is decidedly brutalist, and has none of those traits.

Brutalism is something of a 4-letter word in architectural circles today, and deservedly so -- most of the buildings built in the style were awful, and constructed on the cheap. However, there are some great examples of the style. Every day I take the train, I'm thankful that Harry Weese gave every single Metro station in Washington, DC a higher ceiling than New York's (current) Penn Station. It really makes a difference.
posted by schmod at 10:36 PM on October 6, 2011


Looks pretty bland to me.
posted by delmoi at 12:44 AM on October 7, 2011


Shit, how the hell do you even get a name as aerodynamic and architecturally suggestive and awesome sounding as Eero Saarinen??

I guess being Finnish helps, but still, WTF?!

Fuck it. I'm changing my name to Eero.

Eero Skygazer.

I like my vodka straight and chilled with a twist of lime, and I like my women the same way.

/cue James Bond theme.
posted by Skygazer at 1:39 AM on October 7, 2011


It's incredible how air travel used to be so glamorous and now societal forces seem determined to make it as humiliating, annoying, and ugly as possible.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:17 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


xetere, if I recall correctly the old tower obstructs the view of the field for the new tower, which is a significant safety issue.
posted by theclaw at 8:42 AM on October 7, 2011


oneirodynia: "No, it's not. It doesn't even look like Brutalist architecture. Brutalism was heavy, earthy, rooted, solid. This building is transparent, airy, luminous."

Just because it often is does not mean that Brutalism is defined by those traits. The Geisel Library is decidedly brutalist, and has none of those traits.


I disagree. I would say the Geisel is very much a rooted and earthy building, particularly the way it is tethered to the subterranean level by the branch-like concrete trusses. If you only see the tower it looks less grounded, but the when the entire building is viewed it is much more like a giant concrete tree or mushroom anchored to the earth by the massive lower levels. It's true that the mirrored windows reflect the sky and give a more lighter, mercurial aspect to the upper levels, but that only reinforces the tree metaphor, as tree leaves also react to the environment. I don't think the building is in contrast to what I said above, but it's a subjective argument.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:27 PM on October 7, 2011


That TWA terminal is just the awesome-ist piece of retro-future cool architecture. Surely I can't be the only one thinking that Branson should have snapped it up for Virgin Galactic.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 4:56 PM on October 7, 2011


This Nietzsche quote I came across, would be well applied to architecture as a test of success or as a criteria to work towards. (Architects, please take note):
What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.
posted by Skygazer at 8:34 PM on October 7, 2011


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