05 February 2009

World's busiest airport* as open space: Seeing ORD

I hate airports.

I hear the word "airport" and I envision an ugly, dirty space crammed full of short-tempered passengers and their mountains of luggage, screaming kids and glaring TSA officials, harried employees and exhausted vendors. Miles and miles and miles of auto traffic snaking along so-called expressways and among the boxy highrise hotels that line the multilane traffic free-for-all on local roads. Cabstands, bus terminals, rental car shuttles. Endless parking lots and looming garages.

I don't think of open space.

Thing is, for all the crowds and crowds and crowds, airports require a huge amount of open space. The busier the airport, the more space is required. The paradox is almost absurd.

And you never get to see any of it, except possibly from the air, where your eye would be drawn more toward the the busy movement in the area surrounding the airport than the grassy emptiness around the runways.

Yes, I have a point. Go see ORD: Documenting the Definitive Modern Airport at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. It'll change the way you see O'Hare. Modernist architecture I could take or leave (usually leave), but Robert Burley's breathtaking ground-level photos of the flat, deserted expanse of almost-prairie and sweeps of open sky---smack in the center of the busiest, most developed corner of suburban Chicagoland---spoke to my soul.

It made me sublimely happy to know it's there. An airport! I hate airports!

Anyway, go check out the exhibit and related programs. There's all that gawdaful midcentury stuff and airport geekery too, if that's more your cup of tea.

*According to Ye Olde Wikipedia, O'Hare International held that title in both categories (passenger and flight traffic) until 1998. But Burley did his work in the 1980s, so I think it's appropriate to use here.


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