Phasing out an Iconic Era in Travel

April 13th, 2012

A second iconic 20th century airport of Berlin is set to close. The new Berlin Brandenburg International airport will open on June 3, 2012, and as a condition of the contracts, the Berlin Tegel Airport must close to ensure profitability and and licensure. In 1965, the young Gerkan, Marg and Partner Architects (GMP) won an architectural competition for the new Tegel Airport (Berlin Flughafen). Embodying the notions of Golden Era travel, Tegel was designed as a drive-up airport with ultimate ease and expedience for the flier. Plane hijackings and bombings were not yet a concern on anyone's mind and flying was glamorous and reserved for the affluent. Laid out in a hexagonal plan, passengers could drive directly to their gate, check in directly at their gate and board the plane. Passengers walked as little as 30 m (98 ft) from their vehicle to their gate. Of course, this layout is out of date for today's needs. Without a central security checkpoint, connecting flights are impossible. By the time the airport opened in 1975, its design was nearly obsolete. "As it turns out, what was best for short distances was the worst for a control system, which needs a bottleneck" said architect Meinhard von Gerkan in a New York Times this past Wednesday. 


Because of these fundamental faults, the closure of Tegel is almost nonnegotiable, regardless of the contract terms with the Berlin Brandenburg. Sadly, not a speck of the glamor of these mid-century airports is found in contemporary airports, which are driven by commercialism. GMP Architects approached the design competition as if it were to be a sculptural, cultural gem of Berlin. Everything was thoughtfully designed, from the seating to the signage to the lighting and even the on-ramps. Splashes of the era's greens, yellows, and burnt orange popped against geometric concrete shapes. 


Tegel is looking a bit worse for wear these days, but it still holds a special place in the heart of Berliners. Nicolai Frank of the Exberliner said it is one of "Berlin's eccentricities whose loss will permanently alter the city's image." Passengers will miss the extremely short walkways, clear layout, abundant natural light, and quirky, thoroughly modern design, but concepts of reuse are already in the works. GMP announced a competition for students at the Hamburg Academy for Architectural Culture in which they were asked to submit reuse proposals for an "energy plus city" and a "triple-zero concept", meaning it would neither consume energy, nor release emissions or produce residue. Berliner's appreciation for Tegel and the already decommissioned Tempelhof Airport, an astounding airport of Nazi architectural pride, helps to ensure the fate of each's future. Berlin may set an example of second uses for these interesting, but out-of-date relics of a past era. 

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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