DESIGNING MIND: Curtis W. Fentress explains the inspiration behind the $1.5 billion expansion of the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX on Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)
DESIGNING MIND: Curtis W. Fentress explains the inspiration behind the $1.5 billion expansion of the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX on Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

SMO — A new exhibit depicting the past, present and future of airport design opened at the Museum of Flying Wednesday, providing a look into how airports have operated through the years.

“Now Boarding: Fentress Airports + The Architecture of Flight” was curated by Donald Albrecht and features the work of Curtis W. Fentress, the head of Fentress Architects and man responsible for several of the world’s most recognizable airports, including the award-winning design at Incheon International Airport in South Korea.

The exhibit, which debuted at the Denver Art Museum last summer, walks the visitor through the evolution of airports, beginning with the early stages of flight through a futuristic representation of the airports that could be.

Along the way, multimedia presentations delve into details about Fentress’ various designs, and guests can examine “artifacts” of flight, like original food service paraphernalia from now-defunct Pan Am or children’s toys from the 1970s.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a 24-foot scale model of the new Tom Bradley International Terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport, Fentress’ most recent design.

The model took 8,000 hours to build, and had to be divided into sections for transport to Santa Monica.

The terminal, currently under construction, is set to open later this year.

Like other airports designed by Fentress, the new terminal incorporates aspects of the surrounding topography, in this case the ocean, to create a sculpted roofline reminiscent of breaking waves.

“We design the building to fit the place so that it can be a part of that place,” Fentress said Wednesday as he guided the Daily Press through the exhibit.

The North Carolinian, dressed Wednesday in a pin stripe suit and jade-colored glasses, has some experience in the matter.

His design for the airport in Raleigh, the capital of his home state, mimics the undulating hills of the area, and captures the tradition of wood working and furniture making in the warm-colored wooden beams that accentuate the ceiling.

An airport in San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley is meant to evoke an unwinding computer cable.

The new Tom Bradley Terminal will be similar in essence, if not in the particulars.

Its concourse, which will incorporate nine gates for some of the world’s largest passenger planes, will open up into what Fentress calls the 100-foot-tall “Great Hall,” a mall area which will be operated by Westfield. Walls will hang with animated screens announcing the time, weather conditions and even new movie trailers.

Over 20 local shopping and dining operators like Umami Burger, which has an establishment in Santa Monica, will form the core of the shopping experience.

The design allows natural light to filter through from the high ceilings all the way to the baggage claim, which will no longer be connected by dark tunnels in a dungeon-like atmosphere.

Fentress hopes that the new terminal will help redeem LAX, which was ranked the nation’s worst airport in 2009 by Dwell Magazine, an architecture and design publication.

“It is best described as a collection of drab terminals connected by a traffic jam,” according to the magazine.

Fentress’ airport in South Korea, alive with plants and water features, took first in the 2012 World Airport Awards.

Fentress travels quite a bit himself between Fentress Architects’ six international studios, and is excited by the opportunity to travel out of the new terminal.

The Museum of Flying was bustling Wednesday in preparation for the exhibit’s opening celebration, which would feature the fashion show showing period airline attendant fashions throughout the decades courtesy of the Flight Path Learning Center and Museum.

The first stewardess uniform was crafted in 1930, and top flight designers like Valentino and Emilio Pucci got in on the action, said Eleanor Ginsberg, an airport guide supervisor with the museum.

Some of the uniforms to be shown Wednesday ranged from futuristic to Americana — one involved a Davy Crockett-style coon skin cap.

“Now Boarding” will stay at the Museum of Flying through Aug. 25. Tickets are $10 for general admission, with discounted rates for seniors and children between 6 and 12. Children younger than 6 get in free.

The museum is located at 3100 Airport Ave.

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