Phoenix, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Airport

 

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I love the airport. The airport is the destination before the destination, and it always says something, usually something fundamental, about its host city.

Among favorite airports I’ve visited—Zurich, Mexico City, San Diego—my number one might be the airport of my hometown: Phoenix Sky Harbor International. (It doesn’t hurt that Sky Harbor is a great name.)

Sky Harbor perfectly represents the urban landscape of Phoenix. Like the desert roads beyond its walls, its concourses are straight and expansive. Like the inside of an adobe house or a low-slung concrete warehouse, its interior is dark, in extreme contrast to the bright light outside. For the most part, Sky Harbor is plain and no-nonsense, but underneath there seems to lurk something mysterious. Like meeting someone with a flat personality, it makes me wonder what else is going on beyond the surface.

Maybe I love Sky Harbor because it’s the airport of my childhood. Still, I think there’s more to the feeling than simple nostalgia. Something about this airport’s energy captures the essence of travel, of moving towards a new and not entirely understood destination.

Frank Lloyd Wright, who periodically fled the Midwest for Arizona and built his sprawling Taliesin West just outside the city, had a peculiar architectural principle when it came to hallway design. He wanted hallways to feel cramped, uncomfortable, primal. To Wright, passageways should be built to make the person within them feel like a caged animal, physically—even psychologically—constrained. In Wright’s homes, the transition from the hallway to the open space of a room is meant to affect a release—a sensation of freedom and possibility.

Stepping out of a plane to the corridors of Sky Harbor, I feel like I’m passing through something like Wright’s transitional zone, and as I move on—especially on late evenings, the concourses empty and quiet—it seems I have become, or I am just about to become, absolutely free.

 

 

A Few Lines from A.R. Ammons

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…it is not so much to know the self
as to know it as it is known
by galaxy and cedar cone,
as though birth had never found it
and death could never end it…


A.R. Ammons, from ¨Gravelly Run¨