In Photos: the Undying Glamour of New York’s 1962 TWA Terminal
In the 14 years since the TWA Flight Center at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport has been closed to the public, the space, a 1962 monolith with the curves, cathedral-like interiors, and loping staircases to make it an exemplar of the era’s Jetsons-style futurism, has been the focus of many starry-eyed redevelopment plans.
In 2013, hotelier André Balazs (The Standard, Chateau Marmont, and others) was reportedly in talks with the city to turn TWA Flight Center into a hotel. Some time after that deal fell through, it was rumored Donald Trump was eyeing the place. And that is just the last few years.
And now it's been officially confirmed that New York's Port Authority has approved a 75-year lease with MCR Development (The Highline Hotel, among others), who will be tranforming the structure into a 500-room hotel with Mad Men levels of swank. As has been reported for months, U.S. airline JetBlue also has its thumb in the pie: a reported 5 percent ownership. In all, the project is estimated to cost $265 million, a huge investment for a hotel that sits an hour and a half by train from New York’s prime addresses. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the project earlier this year, the yet-to-be-named hotel hoped to welcome guests in 2018.
The terminal’s appeal isn’t hard to grasp. Designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, it is a first-rate embodiment of Jet Age architecture and a reminder of what has since been known as the Golden Age of travel.
It also easily harkens the kind of glamour that has become so voguish in the last 10 years; the terminal has that Don-Draper, whiskey-sipping, unironic-scarlet-carpet type of allure. Its 1962 bones recall Pan Am and the Space Race—and all the ambition and optimism that soaked the years between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.
It’s no surprise, then, that when JetBlue’s redevelopment plans came to light, a historian and researcher specializing in laser-mapping old buildings, moved the TWA Terminal (still largely untouched since 1962) to the top of her to-do list. Architecture site Curbed NY recently spoke to said historian, University of Central Florida’s Lori Walters, about the project (read more, this way), and in the meantime got a photographer in there to snap shots of the space.
Underneath the “wings” of Saarinen’s masterwork are caverns of curving stairwells, bubble-ish arrivals and departures boards, and a single scarlet splotch of couches and carpeting up against its windows.
Intrigued? You should be; the terminal’s a looker, and proof is in the photos, above. Consider this your swoon warning.
Fellow starchitect Robert A. M. Stern once described Saarinen's TWA Flight Center as the "Grand Central of the Jet Age."
In his Twentieth Century Architecture: a Visual History, Dennis Sharp says the terminal is "one of the most self-assured, self-confident [...] buildings" of the era, and that it "alarmed remaining purists of modern architecture."
Sharp also wrote that Saarinen's Flight Center was a "demonstration of the architect's role as an originator and, in the American scene, as a 'building stylist.'"
In 1994, the New York Times wrote the structure was "a powerful piece of expressionistic sculpture" and, in reference to the "architectural hodgepodge" that is New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, "a bird that has lost its flock."
Saarinen said in 1959 that “All the curves, all the spaces and elements right down to the shape of the signs, display boards, railings and check-in desks were to be of a matching nature."
"We wanted passengers passing through the building to experience a fully-designed environment, in which each part arises from another and everything belongs to the same formal world," Saarinen said.
Architecture critic Herbert Muschamp once wrote that "at TWA, there is so much steel massed within the roof that the building is virtually a steel structure with concrete frosting."
Saarinen, whose firm was based in Detroit, was commissioned by Trans World Airlines in 1955. Construction completed in 1962. It operated as a functional terminal until 2001.
Before the deal to make a "Standard, Flight Center" fell through, hotelier André Balazs said it was "a great honor to be entrusted with the preservation and revitalization of this masterpiece" by his "personal architectural hero."
Saarinen's firm won the competition to design the building because his designs most successfuly captured "the spirit of flight." Still, Saarinen insisted its vague resemblance to "a bird in flight" was "really coincidental."
"That was the last thing we thought about."