Saarinen’s masterpiece reopens.

TWA Flight Center in 2019. Photo by David Mitchell, courtesy of TWA Hotel.

Empty and abandoned for almost 20 years, the TWA Flight Center designed by Eero Saarinen is once again the cornerstone of New York’s JFK Airport. This time, however, it serves as a hotel.

Two structures were constructed behind the Flight Center to accommodate hotel guests. Large windows allow for beautiful views of the Saarinen terminal. Photo by David Mitchell.

In 1955, Eero Saarinen was commissioned by TWA to create a terminal at JFK Airport that evoked the spirit of flight. What he created is a massive concrete shell that is said to be modeled on an upside-down half grapefruit Saarinen ate for breakfast one morning during the design process: He pushed down on the middle, and the sides bulged – traits reflected in the terminal’s profile.

The restored Sunken Lounge with split flap departures board by Solari di Udine. Photo by David Mitchell.
Photo by David Mitchell.

Inside the main lobby, ceilings soar, walls and windows swoop and dive, staircases flow, and seats double as sculpture. A sunken lounge, carpeted and furnished in chili pepper red, has a sloping wall of windows that looked over the runways until the airport was expanded. This magnificent building, known as the TWA Flight Center, was completed in 1962, a year after Saarinen’s untimely death at age 51.

TWA Flight Center, circa 1962. Photo by Balthazar Korab, courtesy of Library of Congress.
TWA departures hall in 1962. Photo by Balthazar Korab, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Then, in 2001, American Airlines acquired TWA and the Flight Center was abandoned. It made the top of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2003; went on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. But its future remained uncertain for another five years.

In 2011, the Port Authority of New York issued a request for proposals to transform the structure into the centerpiece of a hotel. After several abandoned takeoffs, including a bid from developer André Balazs who spent two years trying to reach an agreement with the Port Authority, the project went to hotel owner-operator MCR/Morse Development.

TWA Hotel being constructed to the right of the TWA Flight Center. Photo by Max Touhey.

Three years and $265 million later, Saarinen’s Flight Center has been beautifully restored and reimagined as the lobby of the 512-room TWA Hotel. Several of the original gathering spots have also been revived, including the Ambassador’s Club with Saarinen-designed Tulip Chairs, First Class Lounge with a fountain by Isamu Noguchi, and the Paris Café originally outfitted by Raymond Loewy.

TWA Hotel guest room, featuring the Womb Chair and Executive Chair – both designed by Saarinen – and a rotary phone.
TWA Hotel rooftop pool and bar.
The Flight Center’s signature Vulcain clock ticks on. Photo by David Mitchell.

The hotel opens May 15, 2019. Book your room at the TWA Hotel.