Tidbits for travelers: new airport, new avatar on duty

Mari, a Stuck at The Airport reader who works in air navigation in Georgia – the country, not the state – wrote to draw our attention to the King David the Builder International Airport being built in Kutaisi, Georgia by the Dutch architectural firm, UNStudio.

The airport is scheduled to be completed by September, 2012. Here’s what the tower is going to look like:

(Photo courtesy UNStudio)

Very futuristic-looking, right?

At Washington Dulles International Airport, the future is already here.

A 3D-looking Tensator Virtual Assistant – Dulles has named her “Paige” – is on duty welcoming passengers, offering Customs and Border Protection information and sharing connecting flight information in the International Arrivals Building.

Here’s a video (taken by an airport representative) of Paige in action:

Seattle’s Space Needle turns 50

A popular way for visitors to get an overview of a city is from the observation deck of an iconic structure such as New York’s Empire State Building, Chicago’s Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) or Seattle’s Space Needle, which joined the Seattle World’s Fair in kicking off its anniversary celebration on April 21.

Created as the centerpiece of the 1962 space-themed exposition, the 605-foot-tall Space Needle has been described as looking like “a UFO on stilts” and was for many years the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

Today, the still futuristic-looking Needle is an iconic landmark in the Emerald City, its most visited attraction and home to one of the few remaining rotating restaurants in the world.

To learn more about the Space Needle – and some of its secrets – I spoke with Seattle writer Knute Berger, who attended the World’s Fair when he was 8 years old and is the author of a new book titled “Space Needle: The Spirit of Seattle.”

Q: Landmark buildings in many cities are straight-ahead tall towers. How did Seattle’s most famous structure end up looking as if a UFO just landed?

A: Architect John Graham Jr. wanted a top that looked like a flying saucer and exhorted his staff designers to make the top “more disc-y.” It made sense because it was a Space Age form; the flying saucer phenomenon got its start with a sighting at [Washington State’s] Mt. Rainier in 1947, and that mountain is the biggest landmark you can see from the Needle. Plus, a saucer-shaped restaurant made sense for one that rotates.

Q: You wrote your book about the Space Needle during a six-month stint working at the Needle. Why did you do that?

A: The Space Needle commissioned me to write their history for the 50th anniversary. They named me writer-in-residence at the Space Needle and gave me a desk on the Observation Deck. I would conduct interviews over lunch in SkyCity [the Needle’s rotating restaurant], then go upstairs and write, blog and talk with visitors.

I met people from all over the world and sometimes ran into people with great stories, like police officer Roy Skagen who was on Elvis’ security detail during the filming of “It Happened at the World’s Fair” [filmed on-site during the Seattle World’s Fair]. He used to toss a football with Elvis during breaks in the filming.

Q: What are some secrets and cool facts you learned about the Space Needle?

A: The Needle was essentially built in a year. U.S. Steel called it the “400-day wonder.”

The motor that turns the restaurant is only one horsepower. It runs clockwise, but it can also run in reverse.

A group of UFO buffs, called The Skywatchers, used to meet on the Needle every night looking for flying saucers.

Q: We’ve learned that 1.3 million people visit the Space Needle’s observation deck each year. Do you have some insider tips on getting the most out of a trip up there?

A: If you want to join the crowds, go in the summer when the cruise ships are in town. It feels like a fair up there. If you want the place to yourself, maybe go first thing on a weekday morning when the weather is a bit gray.

The motor that turns the SkyCity restaurant atop the Space Needle is only one horsepower. It runs clockwise, but it can also run in reverse.

Make sure to get out on the deck and walk all the way around; it’s a spectacular view in all directions. You can see three national parks from up there [Olympic, Rainier and North Cascades].

On a few super, super clear days a year, you can see the cone of Mt. St. Helens. But contrary to some reports, you cannot see Canada.

Q: That glass elevator – and the elevator ride up the legs of the Space Needle – seems a bit scary. Any insider tips on that ride?

A: If you’re scared of heights, move to the back of the elevator. There are no windows and the crowd will block the view.

If you love a fun ride, turn immediately right or left when you enter and stand by the windows. You’ll get a great view of the rapid rise and parts of the structure zooming by.

[During the fair] N.Y. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller described the trip down as like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. But it’s tamer than that.

Q: In addition to the Observation Deck, there’s that rotating restaurant on top of the Space Needle. Any menu tips you can share?

A: I ate up there once or twice a week during my residency, and my favorite was the huge Shrimp and Crab Louie. And I always recommend the local soup of the day. I had a nettle soup that was out of this world.

The special dessert is the Lunar Obiter: basically a sundae served with dry ice that is a huge crowd-pleaser with kids.

Q: Anything else visitors should know about the Space Needle as it celebrates its 50th anniversary?

A: The Needle has lived most of its life since the fair and is a local totem, a place of great meaning to people, a site of weddings, anniversaries, deaths, births, world firsts and celebrity visits.

It has symbolized everything from yuppie Seattle [on TV’s “Frasier”] to a super-villain’s headquarters [Dr. Evil’s pad in “Austin Powers”].

It’s been a magnet for magic moments and you feel some of that energy and buzz when you visit. I was surprised that, as someone who was Seattle born and raised, I always saw something new up there every time. The scenery, the weather and light, the dynamic city — it’s never the same view.

Museum Monday: art inspired by Lambert –St. Louis International Airport

On, I often make note of an inspiring museum-quality exhibition that has made its way to an airport.

Today, I’m pleased to point you to a museum exhibition that has been inspired by an airport.

St. Louis Art museum

Ian Monroe's Arc


The Saint Louis Art Museum is showing an exhibition of work by Ian Monroe that takes its cue from the architecture and history of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport terminal.  The building was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, who designed the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers.

Ian Monroe


Currents 105: Ian Monroe will be on view in Gallery 338 at the Saint Louis Art Museum through July 31, 2011. Even better: admission to the Saint Louis Art Museum is free.

(Images courtesy Haunch of Venison and Ian Monroe © Ian Monroe)

Terminal 2 at RDU

Terminal 2 Raleigh Durham Airport

When Continental Airlines and US Airways begin operating from Concourse D on Sunday, January 23rd, Raleigh-Durham International Airport will have completed the construction of Terminal 2.

Concourse C opened in October, 2008 and now everyone gets to move freely through a lovely new one million square foot building that has 40 shops and restaurants, 36 gates and eight works of art and architecture.

New venues include Carolina Vintages, a wine bar offering North Carolina wines and produce,  Jason’s Deli, Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Flavours, a gourmet market.

New shops include Brighton Collectibles, PGA Tour Shop, Hudson News and 2nd Ed. Booksellers, a locally-based used bookstore.

The eight works of art include Robert Kushner’s Welcome, installed along the arrivals corridor;

Lydia Rubio’s Gate of Air, the companion pieces to Gate of Earth, which was installed in 2008;

RDU_Lydia Rubio's Gate of Earth

Gate of Earth, by Lydia Rubio

Mei-ling Hom’s Cloudscape and Ed Carpenter’s Triplet.

Carpenters Triplet is the large sculpture with wood masts and dichroic glass and LED lighting suspended from stainless steel cables in the atrium.

Free classical concert at Orlando Airport; free terminal tour at San Jose Airport

As part of its Liberty Weekend festivities, the Orlando International Airport (MCO) will present a free concert by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. The concert will take place at 8 pm, on Saturday June 26, 2010 in the atrium of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, which doubles as the public lobby area for gates 60 to 129.  All attendees will get three hours of complimentary airport parking.

Saturday June 26th and Sunday June 27th, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, unticketed visitors are invited into Silicon Valley’s Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) for a sneak peek at the new high-tech Terminal B.  The new building includes seating areas with built-in power ports and public art that includes German multi-media artist’s Bjoern Schuelke’s Space Observer, an interactive, two-story tall robot-like structure with three legs and propeller-equipped arms.

San Jose Airport public art "Space Observer"

(Watch a Space Observer movie.)

Registered visitors will be able to walk through the terminal, see the art, buy a souvenir and enter drawings for prizes that will include airline tickets and travel packages.

If you plan on visiting the terminal, you’ll need to register in advance on the SJC website by Wednesday, June 23rd and pick the day and time you want to stop by.

In the meantime, here’s a link to a great photo slide show of the San Jose Airport through the years from The Mercury News.