BONJOUR VITESSE

Sexy isn’t an adjective often applied to buildings, but Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport Terminal 2, Hall F (CDG 2F) is supremely sexy. All smooth curves, arcs, and filigree struts, it’s the ultimate icon of 21st-century modernity. And for extra cool points, CDG 2F appears regularly on MTV prime time and in films — the latest U2 video was shot here, as were a feature starring Catherine Deneuve and the latest movie by director Luc Besson. But to see it you have to fly to or through Paris on an Air France jet. Hall F is the Air France flagship, a dedicated terminal handling more than 40 percent of the airline’s passenger traffic that is the result of a well-spent $4.9-million investment by Aeroports de Paris. It is also the latest extension to France’s busiest airport, which has been designed in stages since the ’70s by Paul Andreu, the Frenchman behind most of CDG’s architecture. Terminal 2F is proof of Andreu’s evolution as an airport designer; compared with the bulky Brutalist profile of Terminal 1, which l ooks heavy and permanently grounded, CDG 2F appears lightly tethered to the ground, as if it can barely be restrained from taking off with the planes. But the terminal’s not all about looks. CDG 2F can handle up to 12 million passengers a year, 50 percent of whom are connecting to other flights.

One of 2F’s best points is the diagrammatic simplicity of its plan. Where Halls A-D are described by two adjacent and equally sized ellipses, each equipped with six aircraft docking points on either side, Hall F is half of a single ellipse twice the size of the others, some 1,312 feet long and 230 feet wide with two piers, called peninsulas, that extend 394 feet on the runway side. Evenly spaced telescopic gangways stick out around each peninsula, allowing speedy access to and from up to 22 aircraft. (Opposite will be Andreu’s curvaceous Hall E, to be completed in 2003.) The pier concept was devised specifically to increase the number of aircraft able to park in contact with the terminal. In other words, hello convenience and goodbye shuttle buses! Further aiding speedy ingress and egress, all halls are linked by rail and road networks, and below and between Halls C, D, and F is a station for the ultra modern TGV train, which connects the airport to the rest of France and beyond–30 minutes to Paris, 20 minu tes to EuroDisney.

From the moment you enter the airport, through a series of massive split concrete columns set within an otherwise all-glass facade, it is clear that Terminal F is a monumental celebration of flight. The concrete ceiling, finely ribbed like a sweater, seems to float above the front facade then dip down to tuck behind the check-in desks that line the length of the entrance hall. Gone are London Heathrow’s complicated elevators, endless corridors, and moving walkways; banished is JFK’s insular brand of corporate nullity. At CDG 2F the very swoops and folds of the building incline toward takeoff and seem to ease travelers on their way. Once Air France passengers have checked in, they simply pass through security(at the foot of the peninsulas in line with the check-in desks) to wait by theirgates. From there they can see their planes. The maximum distance traveled from entrance to farthest gate: a mere 492 feet. CDG 2F’s efficiency is remarkable, perhaps its greatest triumph is its atmosphere. Passengers can rela x on comfortable leather seats beneath a dramatic soaring 107,000-square-foot glass canopy that affords a spectacular view of the runways and aircraft. (At night pinprick spotlights on the ceiling look like stars.) 2F also offers abundant opportunities for upscale snacking and shopping: beneath the peninsula departure area, in the lower-level belly of the hall, passengers have the run of a central boulevard of fine French boutiques and eateries. Fast food is Carte d’Or double-chocolate ice cream, creme caramel, and le club sandwiches served in cafes featuring clusters of wood tables, each adorned with a jaunty Strack-esque lamp and surrounded by upholstered stools or chairs. Restrooms are plentiful and spacious, and the business- and first-class lounges (think luxuriously simple: leather armchairs, round maple-topped tables, marble floors) are housed in the tips of the peninsulas, with swift elevator access to the departure floor. Should the unthinkable overnight delay occur, the 256-room Sheraton Paris Airpo rt Hotel, with interiors by Andree Putman, is moored like a boat between Halls A-D and Hall F.

Despite traffic peaks of 90,000 passengers per day, all is calm and orderly. Hassle-free people movement is aided not only by the building’s transparency, which makes orientation easy, but also by clearly illuminated signs and omnipresent banks of information screens–it’s practically impossible to get lost.

It is a pleasure to be a passenger at CDG 2F, and this is just as Andreu planned. “I no longer intend my buildings to be finished entities in and of themselves,” the architect has said. “A building’s completion comes when it is inhabited by people who bring with them color and movement.” No wonder, then, that travelers don’t feel like anonymous drones shuffling on soulless conveyer belts, but rather, like Important International Airport People. It’s a space that positively invites one to strike sexy poses against the concrete, a la U2. And with room for expansion, it won’t be long before we’re all rerouting our flights so we can hangout there for an hour or two, and enjoy Paris in the meantime.

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