Thursday, November 28, 2002
Unusual Planning Duel Over Kennedy Terminal
By DAVID W. DUNLAP
The New York (NY) Times
THE 40th anniversary of Eero Saarinen's breathtaking T.W.A. Flight Center at
Kennedy International Airport was marked this year in an unusual way. No
cake. No candles. Just lights out. The terminal was shut down.
Whether it ever reopens - and how it will be used if it does - is at stake
in a planning duel with a curious twist. Airport authorities say the
sinuous, sculptural building might find new life as a restaurant, conference
center or museum. Preservationists say it should stay an airline terminal.
In fact, the Municipal Art Society is proposing the addition of new
concourses and gates to the landmark Saarinen structure, an expansion that
would require the demolition of the former National Airlines Sundrome
nearby, a less celebrated but still distinguished building designed by I. M.
"This preserves Saarinen's ideas of entry and vista," said Frank E. Sanchis
III, executive director of the society, speaking of a conceptual plan
prepared by H3 Architecture. "The integrity of his vision is maintained."
Theo Prudon, the president of Docomomo U.S., which concerns itself with the
conservation of modern architecture, said, "For a building like this to be
viable - viable both philosophically and, frankly, economically - it has to
have an airline use."
When preservationists urge that a building's intent and function be
safeguarded along with its physical shell, and when some of them are
prepared to trade a Pei for a Saarinen, one can safely say that a corner has
been turned. Even in a building where you'd be hard pressed to find a
Unlike the battle over Pennsylvania Station, which reached a climax in 1962
just as the T.W.A. Flight Center opened, there is no proposal on the table
to demolish the structure, at least not the main building, now designated
Terminal 5, with its spread-eagle concrete roof and tubular corridors.
"We remain committed to protecting Terminal 5," said Pasquale DiFulco, a
spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, "and enhancing
its role as an airport centerpiece."
But the authority is also adamant that a terminal designed in an era of
Constellations and built at the dawn of the 707 jetliner is "inadequate to
meet passenger, baggage and security standards required for contemporary
No airline has stepped forward to request the terminal since American
Airlines abandoned it in January, Mr. DiFulco said. (Trans World Airlines
ended operations there in October 2001 after it was acquired by American.)
The future outlined by the authority involves an enormous new C-shaped
terminal around the Saarinen building, for the use of several airlines,
JetBlue Airways among them. The number of gates would grow to 51 from the
The Saarinen building would be rehabilitated. But it would also be cut off,
physically and visually, from the aircraft and view of the taxiways and
runways. The two remote gate areas, one of which is covered by the city's
landmark designation, would be demolished. The connector tubes would then
join the new terminal to the Saarinen building.
Exactly how the Saarinen building would be adapted has yet to be determined.
The Port Authority plans to issue a request for proposals in the coming
It must also demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration that there
are no prudent, feasible alternatives to its redevelopment plan, under a
federal law known as Section 4(f) requiring that transportation projects do
not adversely affect historic sites.
This has given the Municipal Art Society some leverage in the process. It
submitted its counterproposal to the F.A.A. last month. "We think it's
feasible and prudent," said Vicki Weiner, director of historic preservation
at the society.
Drawn up by Hal Hayes of H3 and four airport planners, the plan would
preserve the remote gate areas, from which new concourses would telescope.
It would append a large new structure to one end of the Saarinen building,
with another concourse. All told, it would create 52 gates.
LIKE the Port Authority plan, it would require the demolition of the former
Sundrome, now Terminal 6, which is used by JetBlue. The authority has only
recently received the Municipal Art Society plan and is not yet prepared to
respond publicly, Mr. DiFulco said.
While many landmarks no longer serve their original purpose, there is
something satisfying about those that do, from City Hall to Grand Central
Grand Central may be an instructive analogy to the T.W.A. Flight Center.
After all, it is no longer the "Gateway to a Continent" but a suburban
commuter rail station. That does not make it any less imposing or vital.
No amount of nostalgia will bring back the days of dressing up for air
travel and eating in-flight meals with silverware. But travelers could still
revel in Saarinen's soaring spaces. The question is, where would they go