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Dulles Airport and Architect E. Saarinen

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Dr. N. Subramanian
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 07, 2010 5:11 am    Post subject: Dulles Airport and Architect E. Saarinen Reply with quote

Dulles Airport: Where the architect's legacy soars          

By Roger K. Lewis
Friday, December 3, 2010; 10:23 AM

A few days after attending a reception at the Embassy of Finland celebrating an exhibition about architect Eero Saarinen, I flew out of Dulles International Airport, designed by Saarinen 50 years ago. Passing through Dulles, whose years of transformative improvements are nearly complete, affirmed the exhibition's thesis: Saarinen was among the most innovative architects of the 20th century.

   Perhaps Saarinen's most well-known project, the iconic Dulles terminal is recognized and admired by millions, even people who have never visited it. Architects continually cite it as one of America's greatest works of modern architecture. Designed as a jet-age threshold and gateway, the terminal is a kind of super-scaled pavilion, a place of transition between movement on land and movement through the air.

Two characteristics, in particular, make Dulles unique. It has proved functionally durable because of the terminal's flexibility and adaptability to changing needs. Owing to the clarity of its dynamic, metaphoric geometry, its aesthetic quality also has endured, transcending shifting architectural trends.

The terminal ceiling is suspended in a catenary curve above the luggage check-in area.

The symbolic form of the Dulles terminal was achieved with remarkably few- yet visually potent- elements. A thin, curving, wing-like roof of cable-reinforced concrete hovers over the vast, column-free interior. Its convex underside is a smooth surface free of detail or decoration. The roof literally hangs between two parallel rows of tapered, dramatically sloping reinforced concrete columns, one row leaning toward the vehicular approach side and the other row leaning toward the airfield side. It's "like a huge, continuous hammock suspended between concrete trees," observed the Finnish Embassy exhibition notes.

The tops of the massive columns, spaced 40 feet apart, curve outward and grab the roof's upturned edges only after penetrating through large apertures in the roof near the edges. This structurally gymnastic connection, despite the size of the columns, makes the roof appear to be an airfoil floating weightlessly overhead. The sense of lightness is further heightened by use of subtly curved, glass curtain walls filling the voids between columns.

The  mostly underground on the airfield side, have vindicated Saarinen's creative foresightedness. The main terminal continues to be the threshold experience for departing passengers who still begin their journey by entering and passing through the terminal. Of course, beyond the terminal, the multi-level pedestrian experience is now much longer. You descend via escalators through monumentally scaled spaces and the greatly expanded security area, then walk to the tramway to ride to the outlying concourses.

In September 2009, a 11,310 m2 central checkpoint was added on a new security mezzanine level of the main terminal. This checkpoint replaced previous checkpoints located behind the ticketing areas. A separate "Dulles Diamond" security checkpoint is available on the baggage claim level for expert adult travelers traveling alone who are security-ready. Both security checkpoints connect to the new AeroTrain, which links the main terminal with the A, B, and C concour.

Main Terminal Station of Aerotrain

Anticipating growth in airport usage, Saarinen designed the terminal to be expanded. Indeed, stretching the original terminal to its current length some years ago actually enhanced the building's overall proportions, fulfilling Saarinen's intentions and strengthening the terminal's prominence and relationship to the broad airport landscape.
The airport authority has wisely safeguarded this relationship by not crowding the terminal with massive, visually obstructive parking garages or other structures. At many airports, terminals have become part of sprawling building agglomerations. Dulles can be seen and appreciated architecturally from afar.

The Aero train Station

The son of well-known Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen became a naturalized American citizen in 1940 and 10 years later established his own practice. he died of a brain tumor in 1961, at the age of 51, after practicing fewer than a dozen years. But he was prolific during that all-too-brief period. By 1961 he and his exceptional projects already were nationally and internationally acclaimed. And, like Dulles, some of his most structurally innovative projects were completed after his death, notably the bird-like TWA Terminal at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, built in 1962, and the soaring Gateway Arch in St. Louis overlooking the Mississippi River, built in 1965.

John F. Kennedy International Airport

Saarinen's Gateway Arch in St. Louis, The Gateway Arch at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is 630 feet high and the span of the legs at ground level is 630 feet across.

North Christian Church, Columbus, Indiana

1953 Kresge Auditorium,  campus, Cambridge, Massachusetts

While living in a dormitory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology designed by another famous Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, I passed daily two Saarinen buildings from the 1950s. MIT's Kresge Auditorium is a structural tour-de-force, a spherical dome of thin-shell concrete perched on only three points. Complementing it across the lawn is the small, intimate MIT Chapel, a brick-clad cylinder inspiringly illuminated inside and surrounded outside by a moat. The contrast - in size, shape, structure and materials - between the two buildings is striking.

As an architecture student, I admired Saarinen, not because I wanted to emulate his work, but rather because his approach seemed original and non-formulaic. Unlike many architectural heroes then and now, Saarinen didn't develop a replicable, signature style. While adhering to timeless design principles, he and his structural engineering collaborators undertook design exploration anew with every project. Each building was inventively shaped by site and context, functional needs, state-of-the-art technology and client aspirations, as well as by Saarinen's evolving ideas about form and structure.

Thanks to the recent Finnish Embassy exhibition and my latest Dulles Airport experience, my admiration for Saarinen and his design philosophy has not diminished.

The civil engineering firm Ammann and Whitney was the lead contractor. The airport was dedicated by President John F. Kennedy on November 17, 1962. Its original name, Dulles International Airport, was changed in 1984 to Washington Dulles International Airport.

Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland.

Eero Saarinen - Architect With a Vision
By Michael A. Capps

In 1922, at the age of 12, Eero Saarinen took first place in a matchstick design contest. It was the first of many competitions he would win in his life, and foreshadowed his remarkable career as an architect. Born in Finland in 1910, Eero Saarinen was the son of Eliel Saarinen, a noted and respected architect. His mother, Loja Saarinen, was a gifted sculptor, weaver, photographer, and architectural model maker. Eero grew up in a household where drawing and painting were taken very seriously, and a devotion to quality and professionalism were instilled in him at an early age. He was taught that each object should be designed in its "next largest context - a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, environment in a city plan."

In 1923 the Saarinens immigrated to the United States and settled in Michigan, north of Detroit, where Eliel administered the Cranbrook Institute of Architecture and Design. Between 1930 and 1934, Eero studied at the Yale School of Architecture. After a two-year fellowship in Europe, he returned to Cranbrook in 1936 to become an instructor of design and his father's partner in the architectural firm. It was during this period that he began to build a reputation as an architect who refused to be restrained by any preconceived ideas.

After working with his father on a number of projects, Eero Saarinen had a chance to express his own philosophy when he entered the 1947 architectural competition for Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. This was his first opportunity to establish himself as an independent architect, and he set out to design a monument not only to Thomas Jefferson and the nation, but also to the modern age. For him, "The major concern ...was to create a monument which would have lasting significance and would be a landmark of our time... Neither an obelisk nor a rectangular box nor a dome seemed right on this site or for this purpose. But here, at the edge of the Mississippi River, a great arch did seem right."

He carefully studied the site and its surroundings to ensure that the design encompassed the whole environment. His opinion was that, "...all parts of an architectural composition must be parts of the same form-world." The Arch was to rise majestically from a small forest set on the edge of the great river. Saarinen considered it to be perfect in its form and its symbolism.

The Arch was Saarinen's first great triumph, but there would be many more. Projects such as the General Motors Technical Center near Detroit, the TWA Terminal in New York City, and the Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. brought him acclaim and established him as one of the most successful and creative architects of his time.

As his designs show, Eero Saarinen was a man of vision. He died of a brain tumor in 1961 at the age of 51, and is buried in Michigan. Though his life was tragically cut short, his vision lives on through the structures that he created. The Gateway Arch marked the beginning of his career just as the "Gateway to the West" marked the beginning of a new life for countless pioneers. In both cases the desire was to move boldly toward the future. The Arch is ultimately a monument to all those with a vision; Thomas Jefferson, the American pioneers, and Eero Saarinen.

Saarinen's Timeline

1910 Born August 20, Kirkkonummi, Finland, to Eliel and Loja Gesellius Saarinen

1922 Eliel wins $20,000 second prize in the international competition for the Chicago Tribune Tower.

1923 The Saarinens move to the United States. Eero becomes a naturalized citizen.

1925 The Saarinens settle in Cranbrook, Michigan.

1929-1930 Eero studies sculpture at Grande Chaumiere, Paris.

1930-1934 Eero studies architecture at Yale University.

1934-1936 Travels in Europe.

1936 Joins father's firm and Cranbrook faculty in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

1939 Marries Lily Swann (divorced 1953) children: Eric (1942), Susan (1945), Wins Smithsonian competition.

1940 With Charles Eames wins two first prizes for furniture design, Museum of Modern Art.

1942-1945 Duty with the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.).

1948 Wins Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Competition

1950 Death of Eero's father, Eliel.

1953 Marries Aline B. Louchheim. Child: Eames (1954)

1960 Elected Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Letters.

1961 Dies September 1, at Ann Arbor, Michigan, after brain surgery.

1962 Posthumously awarded Gold Medal, American Institute of Architects.

Dr.N.Subramanian,Ph.D.,F.ASCE, M.ACI,

Maryland, USA

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