Dallas/ Fort Worth airport Concrete theology Illus tra t io n by Ej e Wray By James Stanley Walker Austin Lewis Mumford, in his 1959 New Yorker review of Frank Lloyd Wright’s only New York building, the Guggenheim Museum, concluded that it was one hell of a structure, but a catastrophe as a picture gallery. Mumford’s main complaint was that patrons were forced to meander down a spiral ramp and view paintings on a slantan architectural element that inhibited, rather than enhanced, art appreciation. The Guggenheim’s shape sabotaged the only purpose of a museum. The Dallas/Fort Worth airport has a similar problem: it is one hell of a site for flying machines, but a horrible place for human beings who want to board planes and go somewhere. It may be the only airport in the world that is bigger than Manhattan and almost impossible to find. Travelers searching for the secret flying field on the miles of Texas plain between the metropoli encounter the frustration of the negative: there are no signs, no pointers, nothing that says, “Dallas/Fort Worth RegionalThis Way.” If by chance or instinct one comes upon the place, trouble has only begun. DFW is an exercise in horizontal confusion, the ground-level equivalent of a crazed elevator with no floor numbers or push buttons, racing up and down a highrise and stopping at random. You never know quite where you are. The signs at DFW aren’t directional aids; they’re enigmatic symbols. “Recirculation” says one; “Terminal Parking,” reads another that is particularly threatening. Motorists searching for The Way drive up and over curbs; those who have already been terminally parked in “Remote” are led into a labyrinth, a tunnel left over from a Kubrick movie that feeds into . . . another parking lot. Escape from the maze of underground tunnels, automobile graveyards, and Airtrans tracks is a matter of luck, not design. DFW’s double spine and double runway design is that of a two-way autobahn with doughnut-shaped armsmuch like an endless dollar sign. From the ground, DFW’s turnpike ambience calls up memories of the cluttered road to Galveston Island or the single asphalt strip on South Padre. The airline terminals all vapid architectural efforts with the backwater and surf of thick concrete behind themblend into the empty North Texas prairie. Only from the air is it possible to see that down there lies a selfcontained statement, as distinctly defined as the crooked Rio Grande. But architectural insensitivity has struck again, and the unworthy terminal buildings are identical, bland, pebblefinished exercises in the Le Corbusier International Style that has become a common post-WWII sight. These neutral drone structures have only one redeeming feature: they give some focus and stability to the horizontal confusion. There are no interesting buildings to one is struck by DFW’s contrast with the arresting variety of, say, crowded JFK. \(Architects, often lazy fools and clods, have firm notions about what is socially appropriate, i.e., inoffensive. The regional airport is a typically dim-witted solution to the problem of creating an efficient mover of both men and Sometime during their extensive academic training, architects are supposed to be taught that there is some relation between function and forma church ought not look like a warehouse; AUGUST 26,1977 18
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