After restoration led by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners, the TWA terminal in New York reopened at JFK airport as TWA Hotel
JFK’s only on-airport hotel has just opened its 512 soundproof guest rooms, restaurants and retail outlets with ribbon cutting by New York Governor Andrew M Cuomo
Calling itself a sight for soaring eyes:, the TWA Hotel opened yesterday at JFK Airport, where thousands of guests watched New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Tyler Morse, CEO and managing partner of MCR and MORSE Development (the sixth-largest hotel owner-operator in the USA), cut the ribbon in the iconic Sunken Lounge. Celebrating the careful restoration of Eero Saarinen’s landmark 1962 former Trans World Airlines terminal — which now serves as the heart of the 512-room hotel — visitors were surprised by a flash mob bopping to period tunes. Excited TWA alums came out in droves, proudly wearing their lovingly-preserved uniforms.
The story of this hotel can be traced back to the advent of the Jet Age in the USA in the late 1950s, when airlines began to make their facilities affordable to America’s burgeoning middle class. To accommodate the increase in air traffic in and out of New York, The Port of New York Authority permitted major airlines to design, construct and operate independent terminals; a scheme dubbed ‘Terminal City.’ In 1956, Trans World Airlines commissioned Finnish architect, Eero Saarinen, with the task of designing a cathedral to aviation.
Saarinen designed a form that was a fluid abstraction of the idea of flight. He used reinforced concrete shell structures, popularised in the early 1930s, to create a symmetrical roof comprised of four segments. The exterior of the terminal was visually dynamic, suggesting a bird or aircraft poised to take flight. Internally, the curved shells were supported on piers at the periphery and separated from one another by narrow skylights that ran the length of the roof. The combination of the skylights, vast column-free spans and floor-to-ceiling windows alluded to merging the internal and external spaces. The apparent lack of spatial boundaries gave the building an experiential quality, furthering the concept of free flight.
The architect consciously avoided incorporating edges or corners, choosing, instead, to let the vaulted ceiling transition fluidly into walls and then floors. The spatial quality of the interior was that of a continuous set of free-flowing curves- from the cantilevered entrance to the famed Sunken Lounge, where the crowds gathered to watch The Beatles land in the USA in 1965, to the curved staircases and tubular corridors that led to the boarding gates.
The project reached completion in 1962, a year after Saarinen’s death. While symbolic, the terminal was ill-equipped to cater to the increasing size and number of airplanes. It ceased operations and ultimately closed its doors in 2001. In 2005, the TWA Flight Center was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring its survival. The same year, JetBlue Airways began the construction of a new terminal behind and partially encircling Saarinen’s original structure. Eventually, JetBlue and its partners elected to capitalise on the flourishing tradition of on-property hotels by converting Saarinen’s building into a hotel within the airport premises.
Restoring the beloved building (a project led by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners), constructing two brand new hotel wings behind it (designed by Lubrano Ciavarra Architects with interior design by Stonehill Taylor) and building a 50,000sq-ft events centre (by INC Architecture & Design) was a massive endeavour. The project involved 22 government agencies and more than 170 firms. Turner Construction Company began work in the fall of 2016, with roughly 450 union tradespeople on site every day. In addition, dining, retail and amenity partners helped give the space new life.
Renovation commenced in 2015 and The TWA Hotel was inaugurated on 15th May, 2019. Two wings of the hotel encircle the 1962 building, containing a total of 512 rooms, restaurants and cafes on multiple levels, a rooftop pool, outdoor terraces and observation decks. The Sunken Lounge retains its original function as a viewing gallery, but now has the added attraction of a bar.
“Eero Saarinen’s cathedral to aviation has always looked toward the future,” says Tyler Morse, CEO and managing partner of MCR and MORSE Development. “We restored and reimagined his landmark with the same care that he devoted to his design. No detail went overlooked — from the millwork by Amish artisans to the custom font inspired by Saarinen’s own sketches, to the one-of-a-kind manhole covers. Starting today, the world can enjoy this mid-century marvel for many years to come.”