The prolific shelter magazine writer chronicles the shifting architectural conceptions of an airport, from classical shrines to the dreams of Lindbergh and the Wrights to passenger-processing “tunnels to nowhere.”
Gordon’s comprehensive survey necessarily includes much on the development of commercial aviation from its raw beginnings, making it clear that in the long run the municipalities and politicians juggling public funds have consistently underestimated the dynamic growth of the industry as well as the impact of aviation technologies on ground-based support facilities. Yet architects of the stature of Le Corbusier rose immediately to the challenges. As early airliners fell out of the sky with alarming regularity, airports initially took shape as soothing parlors that would transform the queasiness of nervous passengers into anticipation of a wonderful, mythic experience. In the era of transoceanic travel, airports like Berlin’s Tempelhof or France’s Le Bourget became a city’s, or even a nation’s, cultural statement to the world. Yet some planners saw them only mirrors of train stations. Gordon includes, and occasionally dwells overmuch on, a number of designs for airports that never came to fruition, more often from lack of public support than innate outlandishness (though the idea of runways extending and connecting across the tops of a city’s skyscrapers does seem fanciful). Even successful early airports were crushed into core artifacts or destroyed outright by the demands of the jet age, but top-line architects like Pei and Van der Rohe responded with pleasingly functional concepts that anticipated the mass acceptance of worldwide travel. Eero Saarinen’s TWA terminal at New York’s Kennedy airport, called the “bird terminal” by admirers and detractors alike, was a soaring example. Slow development and inflexible plans were punished in the 1970s, when Atlanta’s airport manager advised the mayor that his new airport was obsolete on the day it opened to the public.
A hefty buff book. (108 b&w illustrations)