JFK’s Saarinen-Designed TWA Hotel Is Air Travel Nostalgia

When legendary mid-century designer Eero Saarinen designed the TWA Center for JFK international airport, flying was still a luxury (and a fun, even exhilarating) experience. Though the neo-futuristic architect died just one year prior to opening the now-Historic-Register-of-Places building, his legacy will live on to inspire a whole new generation of travelers through a new project that’s reopening the restored and expanded terminal as a boutique hotel, event space, and dining destination.

For younger travelers and students of design who may only previously have known the iconic Finnish designer and architect by his often-copied Tulip Tables, the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport is not just going to be simply a landmark but a tribute to everything that’s essential Saarinen: clean, minimalist, and futuristic, accompanied by pops of bold color.

Opening in early 2019, the refurbished 66,000 square foot flight center — a $260 million preservation rebirth project from hotel management firm MCR Development — will become the world’s largest hotel lobby, flanked from behind by two brand-new low-rise buildings housing the 505 hotel rooms, a museum, fitness center, flight observation deck, retail, and eight restaurants all connected to the original TWA Flight Center via the original flight tubes that transported travelers from the terminal to their gates. There will even be, according to Bloomberg, a rooftop pool.

(Image credit: Max Touhey)

But the real wow factor (especially, we’re sure, for millennial travelers) will be the “Connie” bar out front — a Jet Age watering hole built into an actual Lockheed Constellation TWA airliner from the 1950s, which were designed by Howard Hughes.

As of September 28th, the TWA Lounge has a temporary home and is welcoming visitors at 1 World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, where MCM fans are no doubt getting whipped into a virtual frenzy with all the design details fit to print — also featured over on Architectural Digest.

To learn more about the man who left such an indelible impression on not just midcentury design but the world at large, check out the recently released American Masters documentary, Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future, directed and co-produced for PBS by his son Eric.



One comment

  • This was really interesting to read, and your first paragraph reminded me of my father’s letter home to his parents (in Britain) after he first visited JFK Airport in 1964.

    He wrote: “I have been conscious of using words in all my letters to describe things and places like ‘terrific’ ‘fantastic’ ‘unbelievable’ ‘incredible’ etc etc, but I can’t think of any word which accurately describes this airport – so I won’t try.

    It makes both Colin and I very frustrated to see all this evidence of money and good living and the J F Kennedy Airport drives this point home about a thousand times over.

    It is the most modern, lavish, and luxurious place I have ever seen. It is the end in modern design and ingenuity. Small features like public telephones are like something out of a science fiction film.

    The airport buildings are formed into a gigantic circle. Each building belongs to a different international airline and it seems to have been a competition as to who should have the most futuristic design and best décor.

    I should think the best was Pan American, which is circular and giant Boeing 707s come into it nose-first (like spokes of a wheel). And hydraulic stairways move out to the plane and passengers step straight into the building.

    There are about 50 of these superb places, and in the centre of this circle is a control tower and the fountain of Liberty, a coloured, ever-changing lake with fantastic fountain combinations.

    We went up the control tower to the observation deck, and it was just dusk and we watched the sun setting down on the sea, as the airport lights came on. There seemed to be hundreds of runways and planes arriving and taking off every minute.

    It was all very impressive. The most interesting place was the international arrivals hall, where all passengers have to first go through customs (this is open to the public, who can watch from a balcony above and was very interesting) and then come out to meet their friends.

    We saw some fantastic sights. People who had flown in from Italy, Russia, Poland, Hungary and other oppressed countries, to be reunited with their families. We saw old men and women crying as they saw their grandchildren for the first time.

    We saw several women who had to lie down as the emotional shock was too much for them. There is no doubt about it at all, this is a great country. And if you want to work, you can make big money here, and have the highest standard of living in the world, and at the same time, save a lot.

    There is a helicopter service from Kennedy Airport to Manhattan, and we decided to go home by this. But the last one of the day had left, so we had to go home by tube. Still, we saved ourselves $8 so perhaps it was just as well. But it would have given us a wonderful view of New York from the air as the heliport is right in the middle of Manhattan.

    I am determined to either fly into or out of this airport at least once during my stay here, just for the thrill of it. Air travel here is very cheap and very commonplace. You can fly to Florida for $100 return, by 707, and also to Puerto Rico for the same amount. The fare to Boston is only $24 return, so I may go up to spend a weekend there with that girl I met on the boat… ”

    I thought you might enjoy this reminiscence from those days! (If you’re interested there’s more here – https://1960sbristolboyabroad.blog/ 🙂 )

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