Delta Air Lines landed itself in hot water recently after daring to develop a shiny new terminal building at New York’s JFK airport.
Yes, the airline spent US$1.4 billion expanding Terminal 4, which now comes with nine new international gates, additional baggage space and security facilities. You would think Delta would be praised for the investment, wouldn’t you? But as everyone knows, there’s no pleasing some people.
Because the expansion of T4 has come at the expense of the old T3, or Worldport, which will now be demolished. Built in 1960, the former home of Pan-Am features a flying saucer-style design. I suppose you could call it “architecturally significant”, in a 1970s roadside fast food outlet kind of way. But the Palace of Versailles it ain’t.
Most people will realise that it is just an aging airport terminal building that has outlived its usefulness. But this is not the view of a conservation group called ‘Save the Worldport’, which has accused Delta of being “destroying a jet age icon”.
And this begs the question: should airport buildings be protected? Protecting our architectural heritage is obviously very important, but should this also apply to structures that have a more practical purpose? Should an old farm building be preserved if it can no longer hold enough grain? Should a bridge be knocked down if it’s too narrow to cope with increased traffic? And should an airport terminal be replaced if its capacity has been exceeded?
The old Pan-Am Worldport was an eye-catching building, much like Bangkok Suvarnabhumi or Beijing Capital airports. But should these be preserved? Global air passenger numbers are expected to more than double to 7.5bn by 2031. We will need new airports, and hopefully these will be designed with some architectural flair. But should they all be preserved forevermore? I don’t think so.
So rather than clinging on to the past, the people of New York should embrace the future of JFK airport. And they should thank Delta for investing in it.