What we hold sacred: the new terminal at Charles de Gaulle in Paris

Until last year’s re-designation of the much-condensed Lytle Park Historic District, I never gave much thought to our built environment.  I’m into words.  The visual arts.  And theater.  Buildings were just there, a place to get in out of the rain.

But after I watched the demolition of the Civil War era Arch Street Row houses I started thinking more about what would replace those historic structures, muddling around with my own personal philosophy of architecture and the role it plays in the life of a community.    A city invests so much money and energy in any new building.  I doubt there’s ever been a single significant structure that didn’t involve years of arguments.  These are some of the most important decisions we make together, the permanent record of our values. In medieval Europe, the dominant trend was cathedrals.  In the United States during the second half of the twentieth century we worshiped the corporation and built towers in the sky, higher and mightier than anything else on the skyline.

Times are changing and they are changing fast.  What do we value today?

As I was passing through the Paris Airport on my way to Italy last week, the soaring ceilings and high-end design of their newest terminal stopped me in my tracks.  The space didn’t feel like some little side-note on the way to someplace better.  I felt like I was in a church.

When we invest such a significant portion of society’s resources in an airport terminal, what does it tell us about ourselves – or at least this powerful, elite segment of the world population?  The white-picket fence is nowhere to be found.  We worship the journey, the new and fleeting experience.  We demand to never be bored and count on technology everywhere. $3,000 handbags are normal. Nature is a decorative component and you can never get enough varieties of caviar.  What are we searching for as we run to our gates, clutching our passports?  Is it a more exclusive, higher-end version of ourselves?

Whatever it is, I’m kind of hoping this is one of the buildings that won’t last.

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6 thoughts on “What we hold sacred: the new terminal at Charles de Gaulle in Paris

  1. Marc Raab

    Thanks for the pics. I can appreciate where you are coming from, but old airports, in my opinion, couldn’t see the wrecking ball soon enough.

    In fact, I can’t think of an old airport that’s great to travel to/through. All I keep thinking of is LGA, possibly the worst airport in the world. You can have your LGA, I would gladly travel through the new terminal in Paris any day, even if it represents all that is material and insignificant.

    And yes, the destruction of the Arch Street houses was sad, and unnecessary. Sadly they will be replaced by some stupoid unnecessary parking garage because John Cranley and his developer minions love parking garage revenue.

  2. executivedreamer Post author

    To be real honest, I don’t have a strong opinion on the Paris terminal one way or another. But isn’t it interesting to ask the question,” What do these buildings say about us to future generations after we are dead and in the grave?” Look at the Post Time Star Building or Cincinnati Bell. Look at Withrow High School, the inscriptions over the doors. Were people less shallow or did time willow out what really matters and that’s what survived for us to see?

  3. Blue Ash Mom

    I once heard this description: In the days when the church was the most important and powerful institution, churches were the grandest building in town — think of all those Italian towns, like Florence, where the church towers over all the other buildings; then, when government became the most important and powerful institution, it was the county hall — think of all those little Ohio towns with the grand county building in the center of town (I’m picturing Hamilton as I type).

    And nowadays, thinking of downtown Cincinnati, and the disproportionately large football stadium (that makes everything else look wrong-sized) and that building that looks like it is wearing a hairnet (name escapes me at the moment), and also this airport pictured above (which at first glance, looks more like an upscale mall than anything else) — well, what is the most important and powerful institution, the corporation, the multi-national corporation, the 1% of the 1%? Whatever label you give it, it’s something to do with late-stage capitalism. Rich people helping other rich people get richer, basically.

    In contrast, I’d say that what the Post Time Star Building, the Cincinnati Bell building and Withrow all share is that they come from a more egalitarian time (not that it was egalitarian, just more than today). The newspaper and the phone company connected everyone in ways that they hadn’t been before, the high school served everyone in the way that everyone hadn’t been served before, universal education being a fairly new thing (especially at the high school level).

    Sorry to go on so long but on another note, LaGuardia *is* awfully crowded, difficult to navigate, and aggravating. But that just makes it very New York, doesn’t it? Sign me, Born in the Bronx so I can say that.

  4. executivedreamer Post author

    You got it, Blue Ash Mom – exactly what I was trying to get at. You just put it into better words than mine. Thanks for going on and on. I want to get back to where our big buildings say something worth saying about us, all of us.

  5. Blue Ash Mom

    Why am out here? Well, I didn’t always live out here, never wanted to live in the suburbs, but our kid is on the autism spectrum and we needed a school district with a good reputation for special needs (in other words, deep pockets). We moved here when he was four and he is going into his senior year of high school so if that bit of apocrypha about every molecule in your body being replaced over a seven-year period is true, I guess I am pure suburbanite now.

    It was definitely the right choice for our kid. Sycamore has been absolutely fabulous — I always say we might have found another district that would have also worked for us but we couldn’t have found a better one. I am very aware of how unfair it is that not every kid gets to go to such great schools but I console myself that at least Sycamore stands as a model and example of what is possible.


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