Airport control towers are one of the few structures for which round design is the norm. While the circular form of La Guardia Airport’s 1964 control tower was, in itself, not surprising, the tower was still original, playful and fun. Now it is gone.
If you haven’t flown through La Guardia Airport in recent months, you’re in for a surprise. Whether it’s a pleasant surprise or an unhappy one depends on your feelings about curvaceous, eccentric, whimsical architecture …. No other airport had anything quite like this porthole-pocked cynosure; a hometown creation by Wallace K. Harrison, the consummate New York establishment architect of the mid-20th century.
Not everyone appreciated the structure. In reporting on its April 16, 1964 opening, the New York Times said it “looks like a new design for a giant ice cream cone.” Writing in 1980, influential architecture critic Paul Goldberger compared the tower, “with its plethora of portholes,” to “a concrete piece of Swiss cheese.”
Others, like Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, admired it. In “Delirious New York” (1978), Mr. Koolhaas described the dialectic in Mr. Harrison’s work “between the rectangle and the kidney shape, between rigidity and freedom.”
Ultimately, he wrote, the liberating impulse surrenders to the grid. “Only his curve remains as a fossil of the freer language.”