The first thing you notice when you enter Terminal 6 at JFK is the sheer amount of space and a freedom of movement not typically associated with crowded airports. But I. M Pei’s design was carefully constructed to give a hectic space a light and airy feel. To do this he used huge expanses of glass uninterrupted from floor to ceiling by the use of glass mullions, or glass frames, instead of metal ones – an unprecedented innovation. He and his team also developed a new kind of drainage system that feeds in through the building’s exterior concrete columns instead of the typical indoor method that would have marred the otherwise glorious view of his glass walls. Still more important is the way Pei’s design managed congestion, which was becoming an issue as consumer travel increased in the late 60s. Up until the construction of Terminal 6 all airports grouped the space for arriving and departing travelers together, creating traffic jams and confusion. It seems absurdly simple now, but by separating the two Pei’s terminal was vastly quieter, calmer and more organized – and all airports built since then have adopted it.
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