October 16, 2023

Futuristic Visions in the Past: Eero Saarinen's TWA Flight Center

Author: Radmila Durasinovic
Tags: Design Category: magazine

Futuristic Visions in the Past: Eero Saarinen's TWA Flight Center

Situated within the confines of New York's bustling John F. Kennedy airport stands the iconic TWA Terminal. Constructed in the aftermath of World War II, the terminal has weathered a tumultuous history, transitioning from a symbol of American ingenuity and freedom to its current incarnation as a hotel. Preserving the spirit of the golden age of air travel, this architectural masterpiece offers visitors a glimpse into an era when the possibilities seemed limitless and the promise of utopia felt within reach. Its elegant contours and unique wing-shaped thin-shell roof were designed to embody the essence of flight, a vision brought to life through the ingenuity of its creator, Finnish-American architect and designer, Eero Saarinen.

TWA Flight Center

In the wake of the tumultuous aftermath of World War II, the world entered an era of development where technologies previously confined to the military and the rich became accessible to the masses. Notably, the realm of commercial aviation underwent a dramatic transformation. As part of the ambitious expansion plans for JFK Airport during the early stages of commercial air travel, the concept of Terminal City took shape, advocating individual airline terminals to accommodate the surging air traffic and to bolster brand visibility.

Present Day TWA Flight Center © Eric Laignel Photography

During this period, Trans World Airlines (TWA), known for affordable travel, tasked Eero Saarinen with the design of a terminal that would embody the spirit of flight in a neo-futuristic fashion. Born from Saarinen’s mind was the TWA Flight Centre—a building that masterfully combined function, innovative engineering and sculptural form, serving as a testament to the remarkable strides achieved within the aviation industry. His aim was to craft features that were both biomorphic and refined, blurring the boundaries between architectural form and sculptural elegance.

The project demanded extensive research and numerous design iterations, which was reflected in Saarinen's design process. Utilizing a range of scale models, he grappled with structural complexities and comprehended spatial dynamics, lighting considerations, and the integration of biomorphic elements. The ultimate design boasted a remarkable wing-shaped thin shell roof, gracefully supported by four "Y"-shaped piers. This innovative roof, comprising a seamless concrete shell, fostered an environment of openness and fluidity within the interiors. Integrating skylights amidst the arches, Saarinen harnessed the power of natural light to alleviate the visual weight of the concrete structure. The end result was a visually captivating, spatially harmonious setting.

TWA Flight Center under consturction

The construction of the TWA Flight Center commenced in June 1959, but the untimely passing of Eero Saarinen during the project posed a significant challenge, which architects Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo took over and saw the process through. While there were critics who expressed their concerns over the building’s practicality and evident departure from the prevalent ideology of form follows function, it was, for the most part, praised as a vibrant symbol of the jet age. The TWA Flight Center served passengers for four decades before facing financial challenges in the 1990s, prompting the sale of its assets to American Airlines in 2001. An icon of 20th century architecture, the building entered the 21st century uncertain of its fate. Its temporary closure even raised the possibility of demolition, but its recognition as a historic landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1994 ensured its protection. After a series of discussions regarding its future, the Flight Centre’s recent transformation into an airport hotel, has revitalized the iconic building, ensuring its survival. The TWA Hotel, positioned as a pivotal element, and the only hotel within JFK Airport's redevelopment blueprint, today serves as a vibrant hub. Restoring the TWA Flight Center under the guidance of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects, alongside the construction of two new hotel wings and a 50,000-square-foot events center (led by LUBRANO CIAVARRA Architects and INC Architecture & Design, respectively), proved to be a colossal three-year undertaking that started in 2016, involving over 170 government agencies and consulting firms.

Inside TWA Flight Center

Opened in 2019, the restored Flight Center acts as the lobby for the TWA hotel, while two new wings housing hotel rooms, positioned symmetrically behind the Flight Center, serve as an understated backdrop accentuating Saarinen's architectural masterpiece. A tribute to the golden age of aviation, the hotel encapsulates the vibrant spirit of the 1960s. With its unique blend of retro design elements and contemporary luxuries, the space appeals to a diverse array of guests, including aviation enthusiasts and those seeking a nostalgic journey through history. Managed by Lubrano Ciavarra Architects and Beyer Blinder Belle, the hotel pays homage to Saarinen's original vision while integrating contemporary programmes like restaurants, a conference centre and rooftop pool for a comfortable hotel experience.

Room inside TWA Hotel featuring Saarinen's famous Womb Chair
October 16, 2023 Author: Radmila Durasinovic
Tags: Design Category: magazine

Related Articles

September 24, 2023

Eero Saarinen

Author: Branka Bozic

He didn’t write books nor did he comment on them. Many people criticized him for not having a clear attitude. He thought that his works didn’t belong to any movement and that each one is adjusted to a problem. He listened to his clients carefully and considered them to be “co-creators”. Eero Saarinen moved the boundaries of Modernism and turned it into an exciting game of materials. He changed an already established pattern and started a period of another Modernism. 

Read More

Tag: design

All Articles



Your Full Name

Company Name

Contact purpose

Thank you for your message! We will read it and come back to you very soon!

You have discovered feature for registered users only!