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New Airport Planners Set To Use Parts Of Old Floor In Kansas City's 'Largest Art Project Ever'

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
City architects will save as much as possible of Kansas City International Airport's terrazzo flooring.

For 15 years, travelers in each of the three terminals at the Kansas City International Airport have walked on the sparkly deep blue art installation "Polarities" by New York artists Andrew Ginzel and Kristin Jones. Parking garage customers have stared up at stair-tower installations by various artists.

Ginzel describes "Polarities" as "very much about the kinetics of the passenger or the person using the terminal passing over the pictorial plane. Of course, the blue saturated ground plane that's so rich with glass and aggregate material, in a sense, reflects the sky above."

Terminal A closed in January 2014. Soon, anything that's not removed from that terminal and its parking lot will be lost to demolition, making way for the long-awaited and debated $1.5 billion single-terminal airport. The groundbreaking ceremony is Monday afternoon.

City architect Eric Bosch isn't worried about the changes; he's excited about what's next.

"It's the largest art project the city has ever completed — it will be," he says of art for the new terminal.

The new airport project is part of the One Percent for Art program, which Bosch administers. The program allots one percent of any municipal building's construction budget to the creation of original art associated with that building. The final airport construction budget (minus design and demolition) hasn’t been firmed up yet, Bosch says, so he doesn't know what the art budget will be.

Airport planners have already removed the hanging installations and intend to save and reuse as many of the 39 medallions in Terminal A's terrazzo floor as they're able. They'll do the same for terminals B and C, but Bosch says he doesn't have a timeline for those.

Credit Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
The 39 medallions in the floor of the Kansas City airport's soon-to-be-demolished Terminal A.

Saving the medallions is complicated. The terrazzo crumbles easily and sits on about eight inches of concrete, and Bosch says there's no way to separate the two.

"They've cut out a square around each of the medallions, then once they get it up, they cut the concrete as close as they can to the terrazzo without disturbing the terrazzo. It seems like the best method to save it," he says.

Bosch says a committee is forming and will soon put out an international call for artists. Architects will identify palettes within the new spaces, like ceilings, walls, and the exterior skin of the garages and terminal.

"We're trying to incorporate art and architecture, and this is the best time to do that, early on," he says.

For Bosch, public art has a lot to do with tourism.

"Everybody has an opinion about it and that's good because they start talking about art, and I believe that more people come to Kansas City to see art — and art, no matter how you define it, it's performance, visual — than any other reason."

Credit Andrew Ginzel
The terrazzo flooring completed in 2004 was poured and spread throughout the three terminals by the Corradini Corporation. The work was awarded the 2002 National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association Honor Award.

Ginzel and Jones were chosen to design the floor after a renovation budget was finalized nearly 20 years ago. They've created installations in public spaces from coast to coast, including the floor of the Tampa Airport, which is similar to the one in Kansas City.

Ginzel says neither artist has been contacted by the city about removing or reconceptualizing "Polarities" in the new airport, but they'd heard about Terminal A's closing.

"The thing about works in public spaces is that we all know things do not last forever," he says.

Ginzel says public art is an "antidote to the normalcy of things that one normally finds that are ubiquitous now in the world," such as restaurants or, in an airport, practical spaces like baggage claims.

Ginzel thinks of airports as non-spaces. In his and Jones' original work on "Polarities," they sought to relate to the notion of flow patterns and the dynamics of aerodynamics, but also create images specific to Kansas City like prairie scenes.

"Ultimately," Ginzel says, "I think strong public art can raise consciousness about the place, giving kind of a trigger to a different kind of consciousness, even if it's somewhat abstract, about the place the person is moving through."

Follow KCUR contributor AnneKniggendorf on Twitter, @annekniggendorf.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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