As a book editor I flew to Europe from Saarinen's terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The central building has fortunately been saved by an arrangement with JetBlue, and is scheduled to reopen soon after eight years of inactivity and renovation, but one of the iconic original flight departure lounges could not be rescued.
The view was different for many on the inside. Quite a few research veterans recall a social and environmental utopia and are alarmed by its neglect. One couple wrote to a local newspaper:
Both of us spent many years working in the spectacular and unique Saarinen building and have fond memories of the airy atriums, cafeteria and hallways full of natural light and wonderful vistas of the surrounding open spaces.
We remember how much we enjoyed the many lunchtime walks on the trails and along the roads on the property. We have fond memories of lectures and watching movies in the excellent auditorium. What wonderful resources! Why shouldn't they be available for use by our community? Why are they being mothballed, allowed to deteriorate, and wasted for so many years?
By now there are disturbing signs of decay in the building. Its loss would be a tragedy, but the owners and the community have yet to agree on a plan, while the local tax burden has escalated. Robert Lucky, one of Bell Labs' star researchers, was quoted by a preservationist magazine:
There is a terrible sense of forlornness about it. It's amazing how a glass-and-steel building can acquire an emptiness that's discernible from afar. The last thing we want is to raze the building and build a whole bunch of McMansions.
That indeed would be a tragedy. But it remains true that, as Art Molella points out, the very features that made the Holmdel building so well adapted to its corporate culture are challenges to redesign.
[Apologies to the memory of one of my idols for the typo in the initially published version of this post!]
Photo Credit: Flickr Users Simply Curious, IK's World Trip, and roryrory