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The Lost Architecture of the Airport: Remembering the Pan Am Worldport

Part 1 Dissertation 2014
Joseph William
London Metropolitan University UK
In the May of 2013, an ageing passenger terminal at the heart of New York’s John.F. Kennedy Airport became a victim of so-called ‘progress’. The former Pan American Worldport, ceased operations fifty-three years to the day since dedication and opening. A once celebrated marvel of engineering, architecture and commercial aviation. An Icon of jet-age chic and an ever optimistic glimpse into technologies future.

Once the epitome of glamour and the product of a considered, genuine original approach to the airport terminal, today the Worldport has been demolished; eradicated to memory principally on grounds of economy, naivety and disregard. With all pretence of aesthetic left maimed and scarred by pitiful architectural intervention and the destructive wake of the airborne terrorist.

If ever an example of history being tangible within a building; the Worldport wholly encapsulated and preserved the dramatic changes in airport architecture that have occurred within the last fifty years. A structure in a constant state of flux, visibly wrestling with its own identity and silently negotiating boundaries between commercial and military function. A lifetime metamorphosis from the fluidity of unimpeded movement expressed via a dreamscape of vast open space, to ultimately becoming little-more than a congested, unappreciated thru-point loathed by the international traveller. A location scarred by the tensions today existing within the confines of the departure lounge, a battle between our aspirations for prosperity and exploration, against our personal and national security.

The Worldport has also become one of the first examples of exceptional airport architecture not to survive the onslaught of the wrecking ball. Does this mark a negative shift in attitude toward our regard for the heritage of the airport?

Detailing and questioning the structure through key junctures in its history, considering concept, context, completion and demise. Can the death of the Pan Am Worldport, birth a call to arms for the architectural profession, a lesson to rethink our position on the preservation and reuse of our airport infrastructure? Action required before every airport becomes akin to a utilitarian sterile lounge, vacant of design, lacking in originality and void historical context.

Joseph William

Nabil Ahmed
Joseph Kohlmaier
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