French Architectes en Chef des Monuments Historiques Tour: Day 2

On the second day that we hosted a group of 20 conservation architects from France, we met architect Frank Prial of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners at the Renzo Piano entrance to the Morgan Library. In 2006, Renzo Piano, with Beyer Blinder Belle, designed a modern steel and glass expansion that complements the original buildings of the museum, adding a large enclosed space for the entrance and Gilbert Court. Frank explained that, instead of building higher than the original structures, the design expanded down below ground to create a performance hall and storage facility.

From the serene entrance at the Morgan, we meandered over to the bustling Empire State Building and marveled at the majestic entrance and decorative embellishments while dodging throngs of tourists and tenants. At the 5th Avenue entrance, we craned our necks to view a replica of the original ceiling in geometric metal leaf pattern. Prior to Beyer Blinder Belle's restoration of the interior, some might remember the glaring fluorescent lighting that had illuminated the entrance since the 1960s. Now it is much improved, as the architects restored the building's original 1930s aesthetic. We walked down the hallway along 34th Street as Frank continued to educate us about the interior and the marble revetments which predominately come from Italy and Tunisia. The details in the interior, such as the clockwork, lighting, and geometric patterns deserve to be admired, so those who work midtown or are in the area should pay a visit. We all need time away from our desks to appreciate the details that go into our surrounding architecture.

We headed to WMF's offices for lunch and presentations and then boarded the E train and the AirTran bound for Terminal 5 at JFK airport. Initially, I was indifferent to the idea of heading out to the airport without a plane to catch, but as we approached Eero Saarinen's TWA Flight Center, I knew that visiting an abandoned air terminal, especially this one, was a singular experience. Richard Southwick, Director of Historic Preservation at Beyer Blinder Belle, greeted us. We were all speechless as he brought us inside the main terminal and began his presentation on the structure's history and restoration. They are replicating the slight tint in the glass, reproducing the small white mosaic tesserae for those that are loose and damaged along the floor and wall, and restoring the façade. They are restoring the main hall without making too many modifications.

During his talk, Richard referred to an alleged story where Eero Saarinen took a grapefruit and squished it flat and stated that this grapefruit was the inspiration for the form. Sure, why not? But I got a feeling that the curving concrete, steel, and glass terminal truly reflects a period of travel when people dressed up to board a plane and aviation was still a novelty.

I wish I were more conscious of my surroundings as a kid, since my mother claims I went through that terminal when traveling with her. It also represents how rapid aviation developed when the terminal could not accommodate the growing amount of travelers and planes soon after it was completed. There have been a few modifications including the demolition of the trumpet, or departure lounge, but the remaining main terminal will be breathtaking when it opens this fall in its adaptive reuse as an entrance to the adjacent JetBlue terminal.