Eero Saarinen, born seven years before Finland declared its independence from Russia, brought the ethos of his home country with him when his family emigrated to the United States in 1923. He went on to study art and architecture in Paris and at Yale, and eventually became a world-famous modernist architect. Today one of Saarinen’s masterpieces—the long-vacant TWA Flight Center at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York—is being meticulously restored and expanded to become the new TWA Hotel. Designed to capture the romance and glamour of the Jet Age, the hotel will open sometime next year. Richard Southwick, FAIA, director of historic preservation at Beyer Blinder Belle, the restoration architects for the project, shares some details about the project and how it celebrates Saarinen’s midcentury modern vision.
ARCHITECTS: Beyer Blinder Belle | Lubrano Ciavarra Architects
ASSOCIATE DESIGNERS: INC Architecture & Design | Stonehill Taylor
OWNER: MCR Development
LOCATION: Queens, N.Y.
Flight Center: The adaptive reuse of the iconic Flight Center will build on Beyer Blinder Belle’s previous work there, which involved the stabilization of the original structure and removal of additions that detracted from the building’s historic 1962 appearance. Now the design team is replacing the nearly 500 panes of custom-sized glass that make up the building exterior as well as restoring historically significant interiors. These include the two “tubes” that connect the building to the boarding areas.
Lounge Areas: Four terminal lounge areas are being returned to their former midcentury modern glory, as is the hotel lobby. The design team ordered some 10 million penny tiles, a distinctive aspect of Saarinen’s interior, and are restoring the cherry-red upholstery and carpeting, as well as adding other period furnishings (including pieces designed by Charles and Ray Eames). Also being restored are the Solari-designed split-flap boards that once listed departures and arrivals: They can now be customized with messages for hotel guests via an app.
TWA History: The design team relied heavily on the Saarinen archives at Yale University, which are made up of more than 750 boxes of drawings, notes, and even sample boards. Saarinen and TWA—their stories forever intertwined—will also be the focus of a Jet Age museum in the facility that will interpret the airport’s history and legacy. “People have donated all sorts of artifacts,” Southwick says. “We are trying to be as accurate as we can, and have a lot of fun with the new work, too.”
Hotel Buildings: Two new six-story hotel buildings will flank and provide a backdrop to the historic Flight Center, adding 505 rooms as well as an observation deck and rooftop infinity pool, conference center, and other gathering places. The hotel curtainwall is triple-glazed and consists of seven layers of glass for high energy efficiency and insulation against jet noise, says Southwick. An off-grid cogeneration plant that will produce all the power for the complex. The project is targeting LEED Gold designation.
Lockheed Constellation: The restoration and placement of a vintage Lockheed Constellation aircraft—once a workhorse of the TWA fleet—has a lot of architects and aviation buffs buzzing. Located between the two historic tubes, inside the plane you will find a cocktail bar and restaurant. TWA had begun phasing-out the Constellation, which had given the company an advantage over is rival PanAm for a decade, by the time Saarinen’s Flight Center opened for business. Like Saarinen’s building, however, the plan remains an icon.