Monday, October 19, 2015

TWA. Up up and away

It was like a vacation without any baggage. Yesterday's Open House New York included Eero Saarinen's exquisite JFK Flight Center (formerly the Trans World Airlines Flight Center at JFK Airport. The trip from the L train to the E to the AirTrain was easy and full of the happy anticipation of seeing a landmark as it was more or less designed before it becomes a museum and hotel.

I've always loved the building, possibly because it's amazing—or more likely because I have a 1970s-vintage photo my Dad took of me in the TWA terminal, right before I boarded a flight to return to London, where I was working at the time.

For Open House NY, The Port Authority of NY & NY handed out a fact sheet, with gorgeous architectural shots of an unpopulated building on one side and facts on the other. But yesterday, the terminal was anything but empty. Hordes of us—all armed with cameras or phones or cameras and phones—descended like happy birds, all taking the same photos with both iPhones and larger cameras. An empty bank of old phones (ca 1990s?)? Click! The departure boards? Click! Attendees costumed in Sixties garb to mark the 1962 opening of the terminal? Click! In a less-vintage mode, former employees of TWA, whose assets were acquired by American Airlines in 2001, visited with each other in TWA tee shirts or jackets.

It was a gorgeous day with a crowd that was tickled to be there—and it was a huge a tribute to Eero Saarinen, to preservation, and to architects. Saarinen's visionary and sculptural spaces even put me in mind of another awe-inspiring architect with a sense of flight: Antoni Gaudí, whose buildings are also ongoing feats of construction and restoration.

Info bits cribbed from a handout from The Port Authority of NY & NJ, info at the terminal and Beyer Blinder Belle's website.
  • The TWA Terminal opened in 1962.
  • Eero Saarinen (1910–1961) was born in Finland to textile artist Loja Gesellius Saarinen and internationally-heralded architect Eliel Saarinen.
  • Eero Saarinen designed the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis Missouri (aka Gateway Arch).
  • 1994. The terminal was designated a NYC Landmark.
  • 2001. Unable to support the size of modern aircraft, the terminal was closed.
  • 2005. The terminal was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • 2010–12. Beyer Blinder Belle performed restoration cleanup work.
  • 2018. Planned completion date of the TWA Flight Center Hotel, with a design partnership that includes MCR Development, JetBlue and the Port Authority. BBB will work with Lubrano Ciavarra Architects (a smaller firm founded by Lea Ciavarra and Anne Marie Lubrano).

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