Iconic TWA Flight Center Open to the Public for What May Be the Last Time

The TWA Flight Center will be open to the public on Oct. 11 as part of Open House New York. (Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)
(Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)
(Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)
(Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)
(Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)
(Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)
The TWA Flight Center will be open to the public on Oct. 11 as part of Open House New York. (Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)

Few would cite an airport as their happy place. It’s a means to an end, and the destination far outweighs the journey. Cramped with irritated early risers, terminals are necessary evils. But if more airports manifested themselves in the mind of Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, the man responsible for JFK Airport’s sweeping TWA Flight Center, we might be more obliged to swing by without pretense.

“We should stop thinking of our individual buildings. We should take the advice my father gave me, ‘Always look at the next larger thing.’ When the problem is a building, we should look at the spaces and relationships that that building creates with others,” Saarinen said.

Mr. Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center has a curved, wing-like sense of dimensionality. Its symmetry and swerving stairs seem futuristic even now, so one can only imagine how innovative it was for 1962. The towering, circular ceiling likens itself to a modern day Pantheon.

“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 in 1959.

Though the TWA Flight Center may be aesthetically inspirational, it lost its practicality on the advent of the 21st century, when high-tech monster jets required an updated home. In October 2001, the terminal shut its doors alongside the closure of Trans World Airlines, which it had served for nearly 40 years. For lack of attention, the property was soon asbestos-ridden and on the brink of deterioration. But in 2008, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey threw $28 million into its elaborate restoration, and this spring, Pat Foye announced that it would reopen to the public in the near future. Now, it seems like TWA may have a future in the hotel industry; after all, JFK could use nicer pre-flight lodging. With bids due on Oct. 14, chains like Marriott and Trump have been doing their research on what it might take to turn a historical landmark into a tourist’s refuge.

Because of the TWA’s impending transition, it’s all the more noteworthy that it will be accessible to all during Open House New York this weekend. On Oct. 11 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., anyone may venture into Saarinen’s vintage universe of aviation. The venue has been a part of OHNY since 2011, and for the past three years, it’s proven its value through tremendous popularity—nearly 4,000 people have visited each year.

So maybe airports aren’t so bad after all.


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