Monday, October 24, 2011

Soaring Savoir Faire at Dulles

Knowing how much I love aviation and architecture it has been a while since I have featured a post combining both of these loves.

We are all familiar with the name of Eero Saarinen, the Finnish architect who designed some of the 20th Century’s most iconic emblems of mid-century modernity. Who cannot know the “Tulip Chair”, “Womb Chair” and various other items of furniture which are still in production with Knoll?

However it is as an architect that he was well and truly in his element, with some of America’s most iconic structures being designed by him. Undoubtedly, his most famous work is the TWA Flight Center at JFK, which represents the culmination of his previous designs and demonstrates his expressionism and the technical marvel in concrete shells.

However, another part of his architectural legacy includes Washington Dulles International Airport which is sometimes overlooked in favour of the TWA Flight Centre in New York. Designed in 1958 and opened in 1962, the main terminal is a fitting homage to an architect with foresight and vision.

Eero Saarinen intended his Dulles International Airport Terminal to evoke both the monumentality of a federal building in the nation's capital and the dynamism of the dawning age of jet travel. (Dulles was the first commercial airport designed for jet aircraft from the start.). There is a dynamic sense of liftoff and speed.

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, of its original design, its aesthetic quality also has endured, to become a classic example of mid-century modern.

In order to reduce the distances that passengers had to walk, and to create a compact building, Saarinen developed "mobile lounges," motorized departure lounges on wheels that would detach from the terminal and transport travelers to their aircraft, located at service areas near the runways.

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.

The airport authority has wisely safeguarded this relationship by not crowding the terminal with. At many airports, terminals have become part of sprawling building agglomerations, with multi storied car parks and hotels, jostling for space. Dulles can be seen and appreciated architecturally from afar.


  1. I remember going through this terminal! Love when airports are beautiful like this. Hmm you and I have a love for aviation David!

    Hugs! ~Angel

  2. An absolutely amazing building- I love flying into Dulles when going to DC because of the architecture. So unfortunate that the majority of airports are so unattractive.

  3. Hello David:
    This is a most exciting and innovative building which very clearly still retains its contemporary look. The idea of the 'mobile' lounges is most intriguing and, as you say, the design so emulates the jet age.

  4. It is one of my favorite airports for sure. Quite powerful experience to be there which is pretty admirable for an airport. Great post David, as always. xoxo

  5. This airport is amazing. What a great building !
    I love the black and white photos.

  6. What a stunning building. Love the structure. Thanks for sharing the pictures.

  7. It's a direct line to Calatrava, don't you think. I especially think of the Milwaukee Museum and its entry hallways.

    I found the bus mobile lounges to be quite weird when flying through there many years ago--just get me there already.

  8. Hi, David - Thanks for a very inciteful posting on this architectural masterpiece.

    I departed to Japan from Dulles International in 1963 when it was so new that it was a little eerie; there was absolutely nothing around it for miles and miles, if you can believe it! At that time the Beltway had been layed out, but there was no building along it, save several forward-thinking corporate headquarters.

    We were taken from our gate to the jet on one of the mobile lounges (this was years before 2001: A Space Odyssey came out) and it was all very, very futuristic.

  9. A beautifully designed building honored by a beautiful post!

  10. Fascinating piece ... .
    astute observations !


  11. Saarineen indeed had foresight. His architecture is 50 years ahead of its time, could be signed today by any of the current "moderns".

  12. the third photo made me realize this airport's grandeur. nice post!

  13. So grand and spacious and visually interesting! I love the insight you have on all things aviation David! :)
    Nancy xo

  14. amazing building!!!!

  15. The Washington Dulles International Airport looks absolutely amazing. I'm quite fond of the "mobile lounges" and this post has reminded me that I have not travelled internationally since I returned from Rome. As much as I dislike airports, it became so familiar that I'm homesick for it! :)


  16. i used to live so close to that this is very cool to see:D

  17. I agree with mr pet!
    Magnificent architect!


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