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The New Hartsfield Int'l Terminal Is Progress

[Photos by Sarah Beth McKay.]

After that whirlwind of a simulation on Wednesday morning, we've had a little time to gather our thoughts on the extension to Hartsfield's brand-new Maynard T. Jackson International Terminal, designed by a partnership between the Atlanta office of large-scale corporate-blah specialists Gresham, Smith & Partners and the Duckett Design Group of East Point.

It's the top level, a grand and continuous space that begins with the impressive departures hall, narrows at an eight-lane security checkpoint, and expands again as Concourse F, that is most successful.

The expanses of windows (offering panoramic views of the airport's runways), highly reflective marble floors, and soaring height of the main corridor combine to be just enough to distract you from obtrusive columns, a bare and uninspired atrium, and tacky Swaroski crystal hanging sculptures. At each gate, chairs (that remind us of Cat's Cradle turning into Eiffel Tower) are arranged into friendly clusters. The designers have achieved a refined version of the cluttered 'airport hanger' feel of Hartsfield's domestic concourses; in it's proportions, Concourse F more closely resembles the scale (and easy circulation) of major European airports.

Yet, upon arrival, passengers are immediately swept down into the cavernous depths of the spaces that support the Border Control process and baggage collection processes. It's suddenly all tight turns and florescent light; the spaces already feel old, stuffy, and unplanned. The stretches of undulating ceiling tiles, which the architects used to cap each of the terminal's large spaces even underground, do not do enough to make the structure feel as dynamic as a modern transportation hub should.

In all, considering both the track record of municipal design in Atlanta and the sheer size, cost, and political complexity of airport construction, this design feels something like progress. Maybe not $1.4 billion worth, but we'll take it — especially if it means edging out Beijing for a few more years.

And finally, just in case your travel plans won't include going through customs at the Maynard T. Jackson International Terminal any time soon, here's a glimpse of the kind of "ra-ra-America" footage you'd see on the soaring screens above you:

Lobsters and lighthouses.
Galloping wild horses.
Two football games — Army/Navy, and one at the University of Nebraska.
Interstates, ferries and railroads.
City aerials.
Plenty of red barns.
Scenes of Washington, DC — cherry trees in the foreground, monuments in the background.
The demolition of mountains, involving explosions.
Coal mines.
Protesting youth, with signs.
Men shooting skeet.
The French Quarter on a Saints Game Day, fiddles, and crawfish.
The Alamo.
Wheat waving in the wind, plows, and bison. Rodeos.
Native American tribal dances.
Baby sea turtles hatching and making their way across the sand to safety.

And from the best we could tell, a (soundless) educational montage featuring maps, cut-out portraits of historical figures, and newspapers headlines about the settlement of Chicago, the Wright Brothers, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. It's just too good. -Sarah Beth McKay