Washington Dulles International Airport is a public airport in Dulles, Virginia, 26 miles (41.6 km) west of downtown Washington, D.C. The airport serves the Baltimore-Washington-Northern Virginia metropolitan area centered on the District of Columbia. It is named after John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The main terminal was designed in 1958 by famed Finnish architect Eero Saarinen and it is highly regarded for its graceful beauty, suggestive of flight. In the 1990s, the main terminal at Dulles was reconfigured to allow more space between the front of the building and the ticket counters. Additions at both ends of the main terminal more than doubled the structure's length. The original terminal at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan was modeled after the Saarinen terminal at Dulles.
The design included a landscaped man-made lake to collect rainwater, a low-rise hotel, and a row of office buildings along the north side of the main parking lot. The design also included a two-level road in front of the terminal to separate arrival and departure traffic and a federally owned limited access highway connecting the terminal to the Capital Beltway (I-495) about 17 miles (27 km) to the east. (Eventually, the highway system grew to include a parallel toll road to handle commuter traffic and an extension to connect to I-66). The access road had a wide median strip to allow the construction of a passenger rail line, which will be in the form of an extension of the Washington Metro and is expected to be completed in 2018.
Finnish architect Eero Saarinen was hired as the architect of the main terminal, working with the civil engineering firm Ammann and Whitney, who was the lead contractor. Saarinen was chosen for his ability to provide graceful beauty, similar to the nature of flight. When faced with the challenge of designing the terminal’s entrance, he had to create an articulated entrance to stand out against the modern and repetitive structure. He also had the typical challenge of providing graceful access to the building, encountered by automobile, entered and further accessed by foot. Famous architect Kevin Roche worked in the office of Saarinen during the time of this project, and with his contribution came the overal elliptical form of the building.
The Dulles terminal has two floors; the first for departing passengers, ticketing and concessions, and the other for arriving passengers, baggage claim, and ground transportation. One of the key moments of innovation in this terminal was the employment of new transport vehicles known as mobile lounges, which resembled a sort of giant luxury bus and carried up to ninety people from the terminal to their plane.
From the ramp, departing passengers go through ticketing to the runway side where they would find gates to take them to the mobile lounge. This inclusion of the mobile lounge led to a revolutionary approach to airport movement, allowing the design of Dulles to do away with the multitude of gates that cluttered most terminals before it. In attempts to allow more space between the front of the building and the ticket counters, the main terminal was reconfigured and additions were made to both ends, doubling the structure’s length.
The original terminal at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, Taiwan was modeled after the Saarinen terminal at Dulles. This airport has been featured in many movies based in Washington, beginning with the 1964 film Seven Days in May. Other movies include Die Hard 2: Die Harder, The Package, Airport, Forces of Nature, The X-Files, and Body of Lies.