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Observance Resurgence at John F. Kennedy Airport, New York.

New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport has, in the decades since it first opened, meant many things to many people. Most airports provoke simply by existing but without them, the world would be smaller place. As obvious as that may be, it is still a feature of life that airports are perceived – with some justification – as being noisy necessities.

(All images TWA Hotel/David Mitchell)

From the day the first aircraft landed at the airport (using a still incomplete runway system at the time) JFK has been one of the most hailed and yet ultimately despised airports in the world. When construction first began it was still some distance from residential areas, but the open spaces around it was quickly taken up by the fast-spreading city the airport was to serve. So it has always had a noise problem. Not so much when first envisaged since the airport was designed for the early post-war propeller airliners of the era, like the esoteric Lockheed Constellation, and the more prosaic Douglas DC-4 and DC-6. Quiet they were not but the sounds emitted were little or nothing compared to what followed them

The original designs for JFK’s terminals were superseded by a unique concept of individual terminals, built and paid for by the airlines that used them. Called ‘Terminal City’, American, Braniff, Eastern, Northwest, Northeast, United and, eventually, BOAC/British Airways (the only non-US airline to have its own), had their own buildings located around the oval of dual taxiways that surrounded the central terminal area. All were of fairly standard design, boxlike in their shape although each had features unique to the airlines that commissioned them but three of the terminals rather broke the mould.

The first was the International Arrivals Building, the IAB. Opened in 1957, in its day it was the airport’s showpiece, and included one of the finest restaurants in the greater New York area. The roof provided an immense area for watching and photographing the aircraft of the world’s airlines as they came and went. The IAB was often referred to as the ‘sine qua non’ of airport architecture but even it was overshadowed by the two terminals either side of it.

To the right of the IAB (as one faced it from the landside) was Pan American’s terminal, a unique, glass-walled rotunda with an overhanging roof under which aircraft parked, shielding passengers from inclement weather. The airport’s real gem however, was on the other side of the IAB.