Perhaps this is the most famous terminal of New York’s JFK airport.
The Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight Center terminal had a unique, state of the art look when it was built and raised a lot of dust in both architecture and airline business worlds.
It was designed by the famous Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, commissioned by and built exclusively for the uses of Trans World Airline planes and passengers.
The terminal was opened in 1962 back when JFK airport was known as Idlewild Airport. Idlewild Airport was unusual in having company owned and designed terminals.
Apart from TWA, other unique terminals at the airport were also named by the companies that built them. “Eastern Airlines Terminal” by Eastern Airlines and “American Airlines” by American Airlines.
Two more terminals with more creative names and the companies behind them were “Worldport” of Pan American World Airways and “Sundrome” of National Airlines.
Eero Saarinen envisioned a design that would very much reflect TWA’s identity and convey the company’s image.
It was to be a bird-shaped emblematic construction with a harmoniously coordinated interior, designed to present a maximum of open space with minimum materials used.
That said, the design straddles Futurism, Googie and Fantastic architecture.
Both the interior and the exterior were declared a New York City Landmark in 1994 and in 2005 the terminal was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The roof (using minimal material) was but a thick shell over the headhouse (main terminal) in the form of wings. The arrival and departure corridors resembled nothing seen before in real life: some strange unusual tubes wrapped in red carped.
Tall windows provided expansive views on the airplanes that were landing and taking off. Strangely curved walls and the exterior facade add liquidity and a bit of surrealism to the entirety of the construction.
When asked about his project Eero Saarinen answered: “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”.
This terminal was a pioneer in many of the usual things we find inside airports every day nowadays.
It was one of the first terminals with enclosed passenger jet bridges, closed circuit television, a central public address system, baggage carousels and baggage scales, electronic schedule board and satellite clustering of gates away from the main terminal.
Restaurants and snack bars included the Constellation Club, Lisbon Lounge and Paris Café. It was a nice little terminal up until the jumbo jets took over the airports, and the sky.
The same happened to many terminals around the world designed before the time of jumbo jets. They were just too small and too relaxed to deal with the heavily increased passenger traffic and security issues.
There was also the problem with the design, which for all it’s majesty and groovyness could not have been upgraded or updated to keep pace with updates in the air travel world.
Following the Trans World Associations continued the spiral of financial deterioration during the 1990s, the company eventually sold all of their assets to American Airlines.
Very soon after that in October 2001 the TWA terminal ended all operations and was closed off to the public.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey proposed an idea of converting the head house into a restaurant or a conference center and building two new terminals that would encircle the existing building.
This idea was received with great opposition from the Municipal Art Society of New York as well as by the architects Philip Johnson and Robert A.M. Stern.
The very clever remark from the opposition of the idea went something among these lines.
They thought that wrapping the Saarinen head house with another terminal would not preserve the spirit of the building but it would mummify it “like a fly in amber”.
After the use of the structure as an airport of any kind was abandoned by the Port Authority of New York, a conversion to a hotel idea came to the table.
This was accepted and the work to convert the bird into a hotel is on the way. Predictions say that by 2018 the TWA will again receive passengers, but this time for a longer duration than just in between flights.