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Eero Saarinen’s Revolutionary Design of the Dulles Airport


In designing the Dulles International Airport, Eero Saarinen re-imagined a jet-age world, solving the problem of growing terminals by bringing the passenger to the plane with a “mobile lounge.”

Major funding for American Masters — Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future is provided by the A. Alfred Taubman Foundation. Additional funding is provided in part by American Institute of Architects, National Endowment for the Arts, The Durst Family, Vital Projects Fund, Eric and Katherine Larson Family Fund, MCR Development LLC, Gerald D. Hines, Elise Jaffe + Jeffrey Brown, KieranTimberlake, KPF Foundation, and Daryl and Steven Roth Foundation.

Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional funding is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Vital Projects Fund, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Lenore Hecht Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers.


Sometimes the problem and the times are right for an entirely new functional approach to a problem. No one asked us to grapple with the problem of the jet age terminal beyond the question of pure architecture, but i believe the architect has to assume that kind of responsibility.

The essential element of Eero's approach to architecture was: What is the problem we're trying to solve? Many architects will brush that off and have a creative will to make a scribble and say 'do that.'

He wasn't that way at all.

In the case of Dulles his first thought wasn't, 'what is it going to look like,' or 'what is it going to be?' His first thought was, 'How do we solve the passengers walking for miles.'

The jets are getting bigger, passengers are going longer and longer distances to the plane so how do you solve that?

We became convinced that some new method of passenger handling had to be found.

The soundest system seemed to be one which brought the passenger to the plane rather than the plane to the passenger.

We arrived at the concept of the mobile lounge.

The acceptance of the mobile lounge concept allowed us to make the terminal a single compact building.

We started with abstract ideal shapes.

Gradually we arrived at the idea of the curved roof. It occurred to us that this could be a suspended roof. The Ingalls Rink give us courage to go to the hanging roof here. When he did the Yale hockey rink he had a spine and then he draped the cables and put wood on top of that. Here he's draping cables and he's putting concrete roof on the cables. You know, you scratch your head a little bit - so it sticks with you like, 'Oh yeah cool idea - but how does the roof stay up?'


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