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IM Pei's Partner Calls JFK Terminal 6 Demolition a 'Tragedy'

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The outside of I.M. Pei’s National Airlines Terminal at JFK airport. The main departure pavilion of I.M. Pei’s National Airlines Terminal at JFK airport. (Photo by Gil Amiaga/www.amiaga.com)

The Port Authority is demolishing architect I.M. Pei’s National Airlines Terminal at JFK airport, a modernist structure built in 1970 whose glass walls inspired another name: the Sundrome.

Ticket booths and baggage conveyors are being removed and soon the glass wall and glass mullions at its front will come down.

Architect Henry Cobb, a partner in the firm Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, described the demolition as a “tragedy” because the building, especially the main departure pavilion, had qualities rare in an airport terminal.   

“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.”

The 22-acre site will be reused — possibly for additional gate space or parking for planes — a move the Port Authority said will help reduce delays at operating JFK terminals.

The demolition had been slated for years and will help relieve space constraints at the airport, according to a Port Authority spokesman.

Cobb helped work on the initial design for the terminal for a competition. In the 1980s, he spent five to six years working on a JFK redesign that never came to fruition.

"I devoted a good slice of my life to thinking about JFK," said Cobb, who calls Pei's terminal "an exemplar of how architecture can contribute meaningfully to modern life."

The terminal was last used by JetBlue in 2008. The demolition is expected to be complete by the middle of October.

The portico of I.M. Pei’s National Airlines Terminal at JFK airport.
Photo by George Cserna. Courtesy of the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.
The portico of I.M. Pei’s National Airlines Terminal at JFK airport.
An interior shot of I.M. Pei’s National Airlines Terminal at JFK airport.
Photo by Gil Amiaga/www.amiaga.com
A lobby view south toward the International Arrivals Building.
The outside of I.M. Pei’s National Airlines Terminal at JFK airport.
Photo by Gil Amiaga/www.amiaga.com
The main departure pavilion of I.M. Pei’s National Airlines Terminal at JFK airport.
Glazed curtain wall with glass stabilizers with a view north toward the airfield.
Photo by George Cserna. Courtesy of the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.
The service centers in the main lobby of the modernist structure.

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Comments [4]

Leia from Lubbock, Texas

I am so tired of people thinking progress means that we have to totally obliterate the past….if people throughout history had done that then there would be no historic monuments. Can you imagine the world without the Empire State Building, Big Ben, Notre Dame Cathedral, Grand Central Station or The White House? What would have happened if our forefathers had decided these things were obsolete? We need to stop thinking of historic as something that belongs to Europe or The Revolutionary War and realize that things our parents remember will be our children’s history if only it is still around by then.

Oct. 04 2011 03:52 PM
Fred

Terminal 6 was my favorite JFK terminal. It was human scale, not large enough to be a mega-mall, and best of all, an extremely short walk from the gates to the arrivals curb. Try the walk from AirTrain to the new Terminal 5, for contrast.

Oct. 03 2011 08:36 AM
Elaine Angelopoulos from Brooklyn, NY

What a loss. Is there any way we can save this building from destruction? Pei's work is such a strong statement, and it seems as though JFK Airport is continuously destroying these amazing buildings.

Oct. 02 2011 11:31 PM
jamssx

I'm sorry to say I won't miss it at all. I found the terminal, well quite the reverse - difficult to get about, and the waiting area was anything but airy being in the building behind. Sure checkin was ok, but that layout was no different to anything any other airport. Then you had to proceed upstairs and then cross a bridge through security to a closed in waiting area, without enough facilities. The two round gate areas had not enough seating. So no I won't be missing this terminal at all.

Oct. 02 2011 11:27 PM

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