Last fall I went to visit one of the jet age’s architectural masterpieces, the TWA Flight Center at JFK. I was pressed for time and actually spent $100 on a one-way taxi fare rather than miss the one day of the year it’s open to the public. This year that day is October 11. You can learn more on the Open House New York website. (They coordinate to provide access to lots of other famous buildings and spaces, too, which I recommend you check out if you’re in the area.)
Designed by Eero Saarinen, it’s now surrounded by the new Jet Blue terminal and largely cut off from the rest of the airport. The original departure gates are now demolished. The iconic, red carpeted hallways that used to lead to them are, however, intact and connect to the Jet Blue terminal.
The incredible organic forms that Saarinen used mimic birds in flight, and the way he incorporated natural light into the design brings the sky down to those who are still on the ground.
Most of the facility when I visited was in the process of a massive detailed restoration. Imagine those small, white tiles you used to see used in bathroom floors from the 60s and 70s. The entire building is covered with hundreds of thousands of them. They don’t stop at the floor either, instead curving up along the walls. Cleaning and repairing those would be enough to scare me off the job. Nearly all the other original fixtures still exist, too.
But it just wasn’t designed for the scale of air transportation today. Back then you just drove up to the curb and walked to your plane. Now there’s check-in, security, shopping, boarding areas…
Hotel Chatter reports that there are plans to turn it into a hotel, perhaps even a Trump Hotel. I don’t see that happening unless someone were to build a large adjacent tower for the rooms, and that would be difficult to achieve in a tasteful way. The main building really isn’t suitable for anything but a lobby and restaurant. But at this point it seems that anything would be acceptable just to provide better access to the space. It’s unfortunate that it sits alone and dusty for 364 days a year.
I’m not much of an AvGeek, but I do like buildings and architecture. Visiting the terminal was a great way to bridge my interests in flight and architecture. To learn more about visiting on October 11, check out OHNY.