Flights of Fancy – the Modernist Terminal in the 21st Century: The Cases of Gander International Airport, Canada and Trans World Airlines, USA

by

Siobhan Barry

Keywords

  • modernist airport
  • mid-century design
  • Gander
  • TWA
  • conservation
  • restoration

The 20th century is inextricably linked with the promise of flight; the aeroplane promised a lighter world, more fluid than the world of the 19th century. For Le Corbusier the aeroplane represented a model of material economy and an optimal use of space, the fascination with ‘air mindedness’ a central preoccupation of the mid-century zeitgeist. Architecturally, this preoccupation presented itself in the form of the terminal building, exemplifying a lifestyle the promise of air travel could bring. The Modernist terminal suggested forward thinking luxury and material innovation, exemplified in Saarinen’s TWA Terminal; the physical manifestation of the Air Age. Yet these buildings were in a sense a victim of their own success, rapidly becoming obsolete as demand for air travel increased, very few remain in their original incarnation.

This paper will discuss the often-forgotten Gander Airport Lounge in Newfoundland, Canada and Saarinen’s TWA Terminal in New York and their potential for preservation. Gander, once the host of royalty, film stars and the political elite, opened in 1959 and built to showcase a cutting- edge modernity for a forward-thinking Canada. However, the technological advancement it was built to promote soon superseded the airport as an international hub, the advent of the jet engine heralding a sudden and dramatic downturn in its fortunes. Today, the airport lounge is almost perfectly preserved, something unthinkable in a busy airport; like the TWA terminal, a time capsule of early 1960s air travel. The process of preserving Modernism has brought into focus the dichotomy between longevity and innovation, how can these buildings be preserved yet remain commercially sustainable and relevant, how do we decide what is important and what to save?