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BY LENORE SKENAZY
A new airport is about to open on 44th Street, just west of Times Square. It has 17 gates, plenty of parking, 34 gift stores and, of course, planes taking off and landing day and night. Best of all, a ticket only costs $25.
That’s because this airport is the jewel in the crown of Gulliver’s Gate, a mind-boggling scale model of the world, unlike anything I’d ever seen (including that cool model of New York City at the Queens Museum).
Buildings the size of luggage, paperclip-high people, dogs no bigger than jellybeans, and hats the size of cake crumbs — the place is a riot of minutiae. But equally thrilling is the fact that as you walk though this world in miniature you take a couple of steps to tour Grand Central Station (peering at the 4, 5, and 6 subways underneath), then a few feet later you’re in Paris, with a stopover in Rome. Then it is on to Beijing, Buenos Aires, Stonehenge, and Angkor Wat. Can the Pyramids be far behind?
Of course not. They’re right across from the Red Square. And all along the way, jokes and juxtapositions await anyone who looks a little closer: Who is crossing London’s Abbey Road? Four mini mop-topped musicians. And look over there, below sea level: a yellow submarine!
The exhibit, the size of a city block, opens April 6 and represents the work of 600 artists. It is expected to welcome up to 4,000 people — real ones, life size — daily, and take 90 minutes to walk around. The adult ticket price becomes $36 after about a month of previews, with the place poised to become a Times Square attraction every bit as quintessential as a Broadway show, or hug from a slightly drunk Elmo.
“And all the while, things are happening,” said Gulliver’s marketing director, Jason Hackett, as he toured me around the world, still being assembled. “Lights and bells — constant motion — it’s an amazing symphony of interaction.”
Cars honk and trains toot above the hum of ambient sound recorded in whatever country you’re looking at. And then there are 137 different keyholes you can put your key in to make something else happen: Your face appears in the pounding water of Niagara Falls, or a volcano erupts. What’s more, if you want to add yourself as a citizen of the world, you can have an itsy-bitsy 3D print of yourself placed in one of 15 crowd scenes — for instance, in front of the Louvre.
The day I visited, two sculptors were busy carving a mountain for Guangzhou, China, while boxes of parsley-sized trees were being unloaded into Europe. South America had been held up at customs — all the overseas countries were actually made overseas. And Melanie Jelacic, a model maker, was working on the airport.
“We want it to look very modern, “ said Jelacic, who’d previously created window displays at stores including Macy’s and Tiffany’s.
The Gulliver airport is hyper-realistic. That means that in the shops you can see — if you squint — there’s candy, cosmetics, souvenirs, even a rack of neck pillows.
“Each pillow is so tiny, smaller than a sequin,” said Jelacic. And then there are the Gulliver’s Gate mugs. “They’re smaller than an ant — they’re like the back end of an ant. A lot of the times, if you drop them on the floor, they just disappear. I’ve dropped chairs, which are a little easier to find, but I also dropped a tray of vases that just rolled onto the floor and I lost them.”
Although we’re talking about a scale model airport, it is still bigger than most Manhattan apartments — 2,000 square feet, with 11 workers weaving around each other.
“Our team has to climb under and over the table,” said Jelacic. “That’s a knee-killer. It’s a big dance trying to stay out of engineering and electrical’s way.”
Inside the airport, there will be mini people sleeping in chairs, re-charging their phones, and, of course, racing to catch their planes. To add to the real-feel, the model makers even built an art deco abandoned terminal, surrounded by a pockmarked roadway and dead grass. Meantime, the “in use” tarmac will be buzzing with luggage trucks, and littered with tire rubber from the planes constantly taking to the sky.
Even after the exhibit opens, Jelanic and crew will be adding, tweaking, fixing, perhaps forever. Visitors will be able to watch it change.
Which is pretty much how it works in the actual size world, too.
Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker, author of the book and blog Free-Range Kids, and a contributor at Reason.com.