Dulles – My Favorite Airport

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I’ve been traveling significantly more for my work the last two years.  New places are good to visit, especially if I have time to venture beyond the local company office or a client’s facility.  In the pursuit of visiting places that are distinctively local and that are open after business hours, that typically leaves breweries.  That said, I’m not unaware of the places I pass by or through or other opportunities. 

I’ve been through Washington Dulles International Airport three times now. I was struck by the architecture my first visit, and on the third, I had time to take some photos with my fairly capable iPhone.  Among many historical footnotes, Dulles was the first to be designed specifically for jets, opening in 1962.  It’s said in Wiki that it is “highly regarded for its graceful beauty, suggestive of flight.”  Perhaps, as you can judge for yourself from Wiki’s picture:


It is striking, but it is the interior that I favor.  The roof/ceiling is the dominating feature.   It’s made of precast lightweight concrete and hangs on tension cables (catenary) somewhat ominously without the support of any interior columns.  The roof is supported, therefore, only by the walls, which are angled outward to bear the load.  Considering the minimalist steel structures and the ample light, I’d call it simple elegance. 



This is one of two airports owned by the Federal government, and from a visitor standpoint, this facility seems to be something they that did and continue to do right.  For example, they have likely resisted efforts to paint, finish, or otherwise artistically “improve” upon the unfinished concrete surface.   And, it has blessedly remained absent of any attempts of further finishing or decoration. 

Another favorite is the simple styling of the airline kiosks, which run the length of the terminal.  In short, it’s an old terminal that despite updates has retained its then “Modern Movement” retro look.




The traffic control tower looks like a cross between an aircraft carrier bridge and structural Jenga.


Elsewhere, the facility maintains a simplistic styling, with open sight lines and color consistency throughout.  Here we have a walking platform that looks suitable for sparring Jedi.


That walkway runs above the passenger shuttles, which run within lighted enclosures.



Where escalators are involved, it’s open areas that emphasize angles.



Lastly, the color is maintained at the departure gates as well.


The airport’s architect., Eero Saarinen, also designed New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport terminal and the St. Louis Arch (another catenary structure of a sort).  As well, he designed MIT’s Kresge Auditorium (a spherical dome of concrete set on only three points) as well as the MIT Chapel, a simplistic cylinder with… a moat.

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