The Chinese architect was best known for his design of Kennedy Airport's National Airlines Sundrome, later known as Terminal 6. In 1992 President George H.W. Bush awarded Pei a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to modern architecture.
The Sundrome was built in 1969 and opened in 1970. It was the best terminal at JFK until 1997, when Terminal 1 was built.
The headhouse design was very elegant. Sixteen enormous cylindrical columns held up a white steel deep roof truss. This eliminated the need for load bearing walls. Exterior walls were made of green glass. The headhouse was transparent. You could look through the building from one side to the other.https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011 ... y-airport/
The headhouse had a very high ceiling. The tall floor-to-ceiling windows allowed in much sunlight. The terminal had a single-level roadway. The departures curb was in front of the headhouse. The arrivals roadway snaked behind the headhouse to the baggage claim underneath the airside concourse. There were two pedestrian bridges over the arrivals roadway which connected the headhouse to the Central Concourse. Each bridge contained a security checkpoint giving the terminal a total of two TSA screening areas. The Sundrome was a domestic terminal. There was no FIS checkpoint. The terminal contained 14 gates. The airside building contained three concourses, the North Banjo, the Central Concourse and the South Banjo.
Pan American bought National Airlines in 1980 and began using the Sundrome as a domestic terminal. In 1985, TWA began using the terminal for their domestic flights. Around 1988, United began using the terminal for all of their transcon flights. In the late 1980s, America West also moved into the terminal. By 1995, United controlled the entire North Banjo and TWA controlled the entire South Banjo. In 2000, Jetblue began operating out of the terminal and by 2004 they had gained control of the entire terminal, forcing United to retreat back to Terminal 7.
In 2008, Jetblue abandoned Terminal 6 for their current terminal. The Port Authority continued to pay $600,000 a year to maintain the vacant terminal for three years. In 2011, the Port Authority decided to demolish the entire terminal under pressure from Jetblue. The demolition of Terminal 6 is the most significant loss of a transportation building in New York since Pennsylvania Station was razed in 1963.
Dave Barger was the CEO of Jetblue in 2011. I.M. Pei's colleague, Henry Cobb begged Barger to preserve the headhouse and incorporate it into the new Terminal 6. Barger refused, however he promised to champion a “permanent display of the pavilion photographs and other architectural artifacts so future generations can continue to appreciate the beauty of Terminal 6.”
Today the international wing of Terminal 5 occupies former Terminal 6 land. The rest of the site is used for equipment/vehicle storage and a 747 hardstand. Eventually a new Terminal 6/7 will be built on that land.