The winning competition entry that Foster + Partners provided to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority makes no reference to the innate femininity of the firm’s design for Virgin Galactic’s Terminal and Hangar Facility at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico. My response to this intuitively sensual design, however, was an immediate attraction to the curvaceous feminine symbology of the Terminal building.
Although the competition entry documentation describes the view of the Terminal building from the air as a reference to the logo of Virgin Galactic, the anchor tenant of the New Mexico Spaceport, the Terminal building undeniably appeals to our collective sexual unconscious. The Terminal building relates well to the incredibly captivating landscape of New Mexico: In my opinion, it is indescribably voluptuous and beautifully proportioned, indeed lying subtly and sumptuously on the landscape.
Foster + Partners, according to the competition entry documentation, planned to minimize the Terminal building’s visual impact from the west, where the historic Jornada de la Muerte (Journey of Death) on the Camino Real is found. The Terminal building’s “wings” are evocative of a dancer’s arms gracefully outspread, head bowing to the east, providing anything but a minimal visual experience.
Visitors and astronauts are likely to be slowly drawn from their engagement with the Masai Mara-like valley surrounding the Terminal building to a total immersion in the architecture. The procession to and through the building is dramatically choreographed. As visitors steadily lose sight of and touch with the landscape, they become enveloped in the gorge cut from the circular ellipse of the building. Upon arrival at the iris of the Virgin Galactic eye, visitors on the mezzanine level can see the expanse of the hangar’s interior and are faced with a two-story unbroken expanse of window that brings the Spaceport’s runway into juxtaposition with the backdrop of the Mesilla Valley’s mountainous edge. The clerestory oculus directly in the center bathes the interior with its white desert sunlight by day and cosmic blue lighting by night.
The next and equally dramatic procession suspends visitors over the expansive interior and exterior of the hangar, aprons, and desert. The White Knight Two carrier and Space Ship Two spacecraft can be seen from the bridge cutting through the space to the expansive mezzanine and glass wall for watching the launches, arrivals, and celebrations of the astronauts and their families from above. The Mesilla Valley setting creates a dramatic interplay of primitive and sophisticated and of ruggedness and refinement: the harsh reality of the desert enhances the almost watery sleekness of the steel and glass Terminal building and carbon fiber of the spaceships.
The Terminal building includes green building features, as well. Foster + Partners design incorporates a low environmental impact and earthen convection cooling tubes. Foster + Partners’ primal union of earthly and stellar will only serve to amplify the truly exhilarating experience provided to space travelers by Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America.
Colorado's 1999 Architect of the Year and Vice Chair of the Boulder Chapter of the Urban Land Institute, Morey’s experience includes the successful development of the Colorado Architecture Partnership, an architecture firm dedicated to sustainability and green building. Morey was appointed by the Chief Architect of the GSA to the National Register of Peer Professionals. He serves as a ULI Service Advisory Panelist and was a charter member of the Colorado Chapter of the USGBC and past president of the Colorado South Chapter of the AIA. He is a construction litigation services expert witness, land development analyst and sustainability strategies consultant.
The author was honored by the Colorado Component of the American Institute of Architects as their Architect of the Year in 1999 and is on the Roster of Neutrals for the American Arbitration Association (AAA), providing dispute settlement for the design and construction industry.Website: www.cyberarchitects.com