Crocodile Tears for I.M. Pei’s Terminal 6

East
Thursday, October 6, 2011
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I.M. Pei's Terminal 6 will be demolished. (Courtesy Amiaga Studios)

I.M. Pei's Terminal 6 will be demolished. (Courtesy Amiaga Studios)

Terminal 6 has been on Death’s Row at least since June 2010. So why are so many aflutter now? It’s an old adage but a persistent one: It hasn’t happened until the New York Times reports it, or until there’s a television tie-in as newsworthy as the cheesy jet set-orama, “Pan Am” on ABC.

As NYT’s David Dunlap pointed out, the boarding gates are already rubble. More to the point, he describes structural innovations so sophisticated that they are invisible:

While many architects speak of creating transparent spaces, Mr. Pei actually achieved the effect through the complex engineering that underlies the seemingly straightforward structure. The main pavilion of Terminal 6 sits under a deep steel roof truss that rests on the spherical tips of 16 enormous cylindrical concrete columns. That eliminated the need for load-bearing walls, which allowed Mr. Pei to design a pioneering all-glass enclosure that is suspended from the roof truss. Even the supporting mullions between the main window bays are made of glass. One can look all the way through the terminal and out the other side. All sorts of subtle maneuvers make this transparency possible. For instance, rain is drained off the roof in channels that run through the spherical joints between the roof deck and the supporting columns, eliminating the need for any visible ductwork.

In other words, no lovable wings on this hub. Instant image points helped get a last minute reprieve for that other threatened terminal, Saarinen’s TWA, while this one has the slight chill of a grainy B&W that appeals more to connoisseurs. The web-wide chorus of shock and disbelief that got twittering this morning is too late and too little to stop the destruction.

Meanwhile Saarinen’s TWA may have been saved, technically, but its current state of limbo is way too far off the beaten path for eager travelers racing to get on security line, and it is far from secure. We keep asking Andre Balazs about his plans to turn it into that utter oxymoron—a hip airport hotel—but no plans have materialized, and he’s busy rescuing hotels that already exist in the East Village. Good luck, Terminal 6, and see you in the history books.

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