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TWA Flight Center

Trans World Airlines Flight Center
The terminal's head house, designed by Eero Saarinen and opened May 1962
Location Terminal 5, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Queens, New York 11430
United States
Area Script error: No such module "convert".
Architect Eero Saarinen and Associates; et al.
Architectural style Neo-futuristic
NRHP Reference # 05000994[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP September 07, 2005
Designated NYCL July 19, 1994

The TWA Flight Center or Trans World Flight Center,[2] opened in 1962 as the original terminal designed by Eero Saarinen for Trans World Airlines at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport. Although portions of the original complex have been demolished, the Saarinen-designed head house itself has been renovated, being partially encircled by a new adjacent terminal completed in 2008. Together, the old and new buildings comprise JetBlue Airways' JFK operations and are known collectively as Terminal 5 or simply T5.

Once intended as a ceremonial entrance to the new adjacent Jet Blue terminal, the Port Authority has since looked at various reuse scenarios for the original head house, which stands empty as of 2015. In April 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that JetBlue and its partner, a hotel developer, are negotiating for the rights to turn the head house into a hotel.[3]

The City of New York designated both the interiors and the exteriors of the Eero Saarinen-designed terminal a historic landmark in 1994[4] and in 2005 the National Park Service listed the TWA Flight Center on the National Register of Historic Places.[5]

While noted architect Robert A. M. Stern called the evocative Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center "Grand Central of the jet age",[6] the pragmatic new encircling terminal has been called "hyper-efficient"[7] and a "monument to human throughput".[8]


1962–2005: Original terminal

File:JFK T5 Diagram.jpg
JFK T5, with original 1962 Saarinen terminal (head house) and 2008 Gensler-designed terminal.

The original terminal[2] opened in 1962 as the original terminal designed by Eero Saarinen for Trans World Airlines at JFK Airport, which was then known as New York International Airport, or Idlewild. Saarinen and his Detroit-based firm were commissioned in 1955 to design the TWA Flight Center.

With an eye to the advent of mass tourism, Saarinen conceived the terminal to speeding up processes. Simultaneously, however, the emblematic construction, with its shape suggestive of a bird, featured a harmoniously coordinated interior and references to TWA’s corporate identity and thus served to convey the company’s image. Saarinen planned the appearance of the building from a purely formal perspective in order optimally to exploit market opportunities. Thus, the TWA Terminal represents an entirely different approach than the thin concrete shells constructed at the same time to span a space with a minimum of material. Known as an indefatigable architect, Saarinen indicated to his client he needed more time — taking another year to resolve the design.[9] The airline, with the support of Saarinen’s wife Aline, exploits the new market opportunity to carry out a most successful marketing campaign starting with the building's first public presentation on November 12, 1957.[10] The completed terminal was dedicated May 28, 1962,[11][12] the same year that Saarinen won the AIA Gold Medal posthumously, having died in 1961.

We wanted passengers passing through the building to experience a fully-designed [sic] environment in which each part arises from another and everything belongs to the same formal world.

Eero Saarinen[13]

In 1969, the terminal received a new departure-arrival concourse and lounge — known as Flight Wing One, designed by Roche-Dinkeloo[14] to accommodate (then new) wide-body aircraft such as the Boeing 747.

The Union News restaurants coffee shop, TWA Flight Center (at then Idlewild Airport), by Raymond Loewy

Following TWA's continued financial deterioration during the 1990s and the eventual sale of its assets to American Airlines, the terminal ended operations in October 2001.[15] The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) first proposed converting the head house into a restaurant or conference center, while encircling the existing building with one or possibly two new terminals. The concept received opposition from the Municipal Art Society (MAS) of New York, as well the architects Philip Johnson and Robert A.M. Stern.[16] The opposition suggested the building, which brought passengers into immediate view of the sky and aircraft beyond, would be "strangled" if wrapped by another terminal, and that wrapping the Saarinen head house with another terminal would not preserve the spirit of the building but would mummify it "like flies in amber."[16] Philip Johnson, speaking at the 2001 presentation, said of the proposal:

In 2004, the dormant terminal briefly hosted an art exhibition called Terminal 5,[17] featuring the work of 19 artists from 10 countries.[14][18] The theme of the show featured work, lectures and temporary installations drawing inspiration from the terminal's architecture[14] — and was to run from October 1, 2004 to January 31, 2005[14] — though it closed abruptly after the building itself was vandalized during its opening gala.[2][19][20] That same year, the Municipal Art Society of New York succeeded in nominating the facility to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of the 11 Most Endangered Places in America.[17]

2005–2009: JetBlue T5

File:JetBlue T5 Logo.jpg
The JetBlue T5 reopening logo
Interior of the new JetBlue terminal

In December 2005, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) began construction of a new terminal facility for JetBlue Airways—which occupied the adjacent Terminal 6 and was the airport's fastest-growing carrier—behind and partially encircling Saarinen's original gull-winged building (also known as the head house[5]). Peripheral portions of the original facility were demolished to make space for a mostly new Script error: No such module "convert". facility designed by Gensler, including 26 gates to accommodate 250 flights per day[21] and 20 million passengers annually.[22] Originally, there were also tentative plans to renovate another portion of the original facility, a salvaged portion of the departure lounges known as The Trumpet,[23] dating from the Roche-Dinkeloo Flight Wing One addition in 1969. During the construction of the new, Gensler-designed terminal, The Trumpet was lifted and moved 1500 feet[24] at a cost of $895,000,[23] only to be later demolished when the project's budget prioritized renovating the head house.[5]

T5 reopened on October 22, 2008,[25] with JetBlue using an abstraction of the Saarinen terminal's gull-wing shape as the official logo for the event, an abstraction of the new terminal floor plan for the signage[5][26] and counting down the reopening via Twitter.[27] The new terminal features a Script error: No such module "convert". retail area with 22 food concessions and 35 specialty retail stores[21] along with free wireless Internet access, a children’s play area and a 1,500-space parking garage.[27] As the first airline terminal at JFK designed after the September 11, 2001, attacks,[7][28] T5 now contains 20 security lanes, one of the largest checkpoints in a US airline terminal. The entry hall of the Gensler terminal wraps around the Saarinen head house in a crescent shape[5] and retains the original, iconic departure-arrival passenger tubes from the head house (Tube #1 from the 1962 Saarinen design and Tube #2 from the 1969 Roche-Dinkeloo-designed Flight Wing One).[29]

JetBlue and PANYNJ have yet to complete renovation of the original Saarinen head house; proposals include a conference center, an aviation museum, and a restaurant.[23] When completed, passengers may be able to check in for flights at the landmark building, then transfer to the new structure via the original passenger departing-arrival tubes from the Trans World Flight Center.[30]

Saarinen head house

Saarinen's original futuristic design featured a prominent wing-shaped thin shell roof over the main terminal (head house), unusual tube-shaped departure-arrival corridors originally wrapped in red carpet and — critical to the spirit of the design — expansive windows that highlighted departing and arriving jets. The concrete shell's evocative shape — which inspired Saarinen to develop special, curved edge ceramic tiles to conform to the curvilinear shapes[9] — places the design into the categories of Futurist, Googie, and Fantastic architecture.

The terminal was also one of the first with enclosed passenger jetways,[4] closed circuit television, a central public address system, baggage carousels,[4] electronic schedule board and baggage scales, and the satellite clustering of gates away from the main terminal.[4] Food and beverage services included the Constellation Club, Lisbon Lounge, and Paris Café.

JFK was unusual in having company-owned and designed terminals. Terminals were built by Eastern Airlines and American Airlines while others carried the names of their airlines, including the Worldport of Pan American World Airways and the Sundrome of National Airlines.

As with many terminals designed before the advent of jumbo jets, increased passenger traffic and security issues, the design proved difficult to update as air travel evolved; terminal gates close to the street made centralized ticketing and security checkpoints difficult.[14]

See also


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  2. ^ a b c "A Review of a Show You Cannot See"., Tom Vanderbilt, January 14, 2005. 
  3. ^ Karmin, Craig. "JetBlue Wants to Turn Former TWA Terminal Into Hotel". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d "T.W.A.'s Hub Is Declared A Landmark". The New York Times, City Room, David W. Dunlap, July 20, 1994. July 20, 1994. Retrieved May 26, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Saarinen Terminal to Reopen at Kennedy Airport". The New York Times, City Room, David W. Dunlap, February 21, 2008. February 21, 2008. Retrieved May 26, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Stay of Execution for a Dazzling Airline Terminal". The New York Times, Architecture View, Herbert Muschamp, Sunday, November 6, 1994. November 6, 1994. Retrieved May 26, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b "Where JetBlue Put Its Millions". Time Magazine, Deirdre van Dyk, Aug. 05, 2008. August 5, 2008. Retrieved May 26, 2010. 
  8. ^ "JetBlue's New Terminal at JFK Offers Huge Capacity, No Charm"., James S. Russell, Oct. 22 2008. 
  9. ^ a b "Reconsidering Eero". Metropolis Magazine, Paul Makovsky, September 19, 2005. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Saarinen exhibit at National Building Museum". The Examiner, Chris Klimek, August 18, 2008. 
  12. ^ "Saarinen rising: A much-maligned modernist finally gets his due". The Boston Globe, Clay Risen, November 7, 2004. November 7, 2004. 
  13. ^ "TWA Terminal"., February 19, 2009. 
  14. ^ a b c d e "Now Boarding: Destination, JFK". The Architects Newspaper, September 21, 2004. 
  15. ^ "Unusual Planning Duel Over Kennedy Terminal". The New York Times, David W. Dunlap, November 28, 2002. February 21, 2008. Retrieved May 26, 2010. 
  16. ^ a b "Planning a Nest of Concrete for a Landmark of Flight". The New York Times, David W. Dunlap, August 14, 2001. August 14, 2001. Retrieved May 26, 2010. 
  17. ^ a b "TWA Terminal Named as One of the Nation’s Most Endangered Places". Municipal Art Society New York, February 9, 2004. 
  18. ^ "2004, "Terminal 5: Now Closed," gallery exhibition at Colette, Paris". Rachel K. Ward,. 
  19. ^ "Port Authority Shuts Art Exhibit in Aftermath of Rowdy Party". The New York Times, Carol Vogel, October 7, 2004. October 7, 2004. Retrieved May 26, 2010. 
  20. ^ "Art Exhibition at JFK Airport's TWA Terminal Abruptly Shut Down". Architectural Record, John E. Czarnecki,, October 11, 2004. 
  21. ^ a b "Mayor Bloomberg, Port Authority and Jetblue Cut Ribbon on New $875 Million Terminal at JFK Airport". 
  22. ^ "Gensler Designing Jet Blue Terminal at JFK Airport". Architectural Record, August 10, 2004. 
  23. ^ a b c "Moved Once, Saarinen's TWA Trumpet To Fall"., Margaret Foster, Mar. 27, 2008. 
  24. ^ Krista Walton (Apr 23, 2007). "Saarinen's TWA Trumpet To Move". National Trust for Historic Preservation. 
  25. ^ JetBlue T5 at JFK Officially Opens
  26. ^ "JetBlue Airways Terminal 5 signage". Communication Arts, January 16, 2009. 
  27. ^ a b "JetBlue Twitters its New Terminal". The New York Times, Micheline Maynard, October 22, 2008. October 22, 2008. Retrieved May 26, 2010. 
  28. ^ "Prepared for Takeoff". Architects Online, Sara Hart, December 1, 2008. 
  29. ^ "JetBlue's Terminal Takes Wing". Business Week, Innovation, Andrew Blum, July 21, 2005. 
  30. ^ Russell, James S. (October 23, 2008) "JetBlue's New Terminal at JFK Offers Huge Capacity, No Charm" Bloomberg

External links

External images
16px TWA Flight Center: c. 1962, Departure & Arrival Board
16px TWA Flight Center: c. 1962, Departure & Arrival Corridor
16px TWA Flight Center: c. 1962, Interior View

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