The dance of people in public spaces 06 Jul 2006
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Architect and set designer David Rockwell was hired to design the “interior experience” (arrival, departure, retail space) of the new JetBlue terminal being built at JFK Airport (Gensler handled most of the architecture). Looking for a new angle on movement vs. environment, Rockwell took a strange turn: He hired choreographer Jerry Mitchell to help him. At the New JetBlue Terminal, Passengers May Pirouette to Gate 3 examines the collaboration and takes a look at the dance of people in public spaces. There’s also an accompanying audio slide show that looks at the process and its results.
The duo started out by looking at what they considered well choreographed spaces in New York, like the Grand Foyer at Radio City Music Hall, Grand Central Station (top photo), and Union Square (bottom).
After examining the dance at these places, the choreographer urged the terminal’s architects to eliminate crisscrossing and straight edges in favor of a merry-go-round approach since “people move easiest in circles.” He also urged them to recognize the “different emotional experiences” of arrival and departure and treat them accordingly. The resulting design for the terminal can be viewed in the slide show or this PDF.
Here’s more on how it all went down:
So he and the architects looked for ways to alter the shape and pace of passenger movement within the terminal, drawing less on transportation hubs (which are patronized of necessity) and more on urban spaces that people actually choose and enjoy. At Union Square, as Mr. Rockwell explained on a recent tour through some of those sites, the paths are wide enough for pedestrians to move along them in both directions at once, allowing for the pleasure of proximity without discouraging eye contact. (Squeeze people too close, as on a rush-hour subway train, and they won’t look at one another.) The paths are also gently curved, allowing some surprise about what’s around the next bend. And those curves seem to stretch time; as we circulated slowly, we were always aware of how we were deviating from the Manhattan grid, which nevertheless persisted as a faint impression, like a distant drumbeat…
Out of such thoughts, and Mr. Mitchell’s choreographic insights, came the Rockwell Group’s solution for the JetBlue terminal. Various obstructions (principally two large bleacherlike seating areas rising up like icebergs after the security checkpoints) would subtly lead outbound travelers toward the periphery of the space — the longer, more circular route — while inbound travelers would be directed straight between them, down a level and swiftly out. The periphery walls would be curved like the paths at Union Square to slow down the outbound experience and, not incidentally, enhance the likelihood of lingering over merchandise. And the bleacherlike seating areas, improving on the usual pods of wee chairs and tables at floor level, would encourage people to get above the action and watch the shapes of the promenade that they were recently part of.
Inspiration doesn’t always come from obvious people or places. Kudos to Rockwell for seeking solutions under unusual rocks and to Gensler/JetBlue for recognizing the value of this unorthodox approach.
Related: JetBlue’s Terminal Takes Wing [BusinessWeek]