Many area residents resist the idea of a new KCI terminal, but some influential architects involved with its original, beloved design agree it’s time for a change.
That includes the nephew of Clarence Kivett, the architect whose firm was responsible for Kansas City International Airport’s three-terminal, horseshoe design that passengers find so convenient. When KCI opened in 1972, there were far more airlines and almost no security concerns.
But architects say those days are over.
“It’s another era,” said Hanan Kivett, who apprenticed in his uncle’s firm during KCI’s design-development phase, launching his career designing airport terminals, rail stations and rail access to airports.
“We can’t just remain in the past just because we like it,” Kivett said, acknowledging that KCI has served the public very well for 40 years. But now, he said, we need to plan for the next 40 or 50 years.
“It is time for that reassessment,” he said.
Kansas City is exploring a plan to convert to a single terminal in the next five years, possibly built on top of the current Terminal A. Aviation officials say KCI must be updated, although many local passengers insist they want no changes. A more detailed plan for a new terminal is expected later this year.
Kivett, who lives in Bethesda, Md., was in Kansas City on Thursday for a discussion with other architects and Aviation Director Mark VanLoh about KCI’s past, present and future.
He said one of the goals of KCI’s current design was a “drive to your gate” concept, which worked well and was adopted by a number of other airports, especially in Europe. KCI was known as having the “shortest walk to fly.”
But he noted that the decentralized design, with many gate check-in areas, has become obsolete in this country because of airline consolidations, security requirements and the increased use of mass transit at airports.
Bob Berkebile, who helped design KCI’s terminals for Kivett and Myers and went on to become one of Kansas City’s most influential architects, agreed.
“The terminals did function as envisioned,” he said. “But it was a totally different environment.”
VanLoh noted that, with its multiple security entry points, KCI now has more airport screeners than all three New York airports combined.
He also said KCI is no longer the easiest airport to get in and out of. He said that when 8,000 participants in the SkillsUSA convention left Kansas City on Thursday, the congestion was horrendous and many bags had to be inspected manually because the airport’s baggage screening machines couldn’t accommodate that crowd.
VanLoh acknowledged that passenger comfort, which was important when KCI was built, is no longer a priority of the airlines or Homeland Security. But he predicted today’s architects can still use creative designs to preserve what makes KCI so convenient, with reasonably short walks to the gates.
“It’s up to all of you to make the next one as good, if not better,” he told the gathering of architects.
Berkebile joined others in saying Kansas City has a chance to create another iconic building, like the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
“It’s a new opportunity to celebrate Kansas City.”