By Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin
Airports have a way of wearing out, of becoming prematurely bedraggled, haggard, and out-of-date. They are tired, tiring, and tiresome places where the architecture never makes the moment of arrival or departure grand or inviting. Dismal is the norm.
John F. Kennedy International Airport is no exception. First called Idlewild, it grew by accretion, adding privately held airline terminal buildings one after another, until the entire place was a mass of short circuits. Nothing connected, and with the exception of Eero Saarinen’s swooping TWA Terminal, nothing made the experience of flying a thrill. Delano and Aldrich’s original 1945 master plan had envisioned a single, shared terminal––an idea abandoned because neither the air carriers nor the bookkeepers liked it. By the mid-1980s, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which ran the airport, was again interested in the idea.
Never Built New York, published courtesy of Metropolis Books.
Hidden beneath and behind this grand, eloquent public space, there would be a multilayered network of interwoven roads, walkways, tunnels, and people movers, designed to alleviate congestion and make the central terminal feel someplace apart, noble, and breathtaking.
“Had it been built, it would have been an icon for the jet age,” Cobb recalled from his Lower Manhattan office in 2015.
Within days of Pei Cobb Freed having finished the construction documents on the $450-million building, the Port Authority pulled the plug. The official excuse was that the money had dried up. But to have allowed the firm to get to the point where the shovels were poised to dig, only to scuttle the operation, pointed to a much more likely reason: The Port Authority had caved to the airlines’ craven wishes and was waiting for the right moment to dismiss the architects.
Sam Lubell is a Staff Writer at Wired and a Contributing Editor at the Architect’s Newspaper. He has written seven books about architecture, published widely, and curated Never Built Los Angeles and Shelter: Rethinking How We Live in Los Angeles at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum. Greg Goldin was the architecture critic at Los Angeles Magazine from 1999 to 2011, and co-curator, and co-author, of Never Built Los Angeles. His writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Architectural Record, The Architect’s Newspaper, and Zocalo, among many others.