Fascinating Images Reveal the Genesis of the TWA Flight Center, America’s Greatest Terminal
For today’s air travelers, the 1950s and 1960s seem like a golden age of air travel, a time when flying was an occasion for grandeur, not dread. That’s total nonsense: Flying today is safer, faster, affordable for the masses, and fully glamorous for those with cash to burn.
But if you insist on nostalgia for the early years of the jet age, you should focus on the Trans World Flight Center at New York City’s JFK airport.
The TWA Flight Center, designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, was opened in 1962, a response to the expanding popularity of jet travel. The building’s curving, concrete shells give the impression of a giant bird taking off. Its walls of glass offer sweeping views of the airport’s runways and the planes ferrying passengers around the world.
In his new book, Designing TWA: Eero Saarinen’s Airport Terminal in New York, Kornel Ringli—who wrote a dissertation on the building—offers a deep dive into how Saarinen designed one of the most remarkable buildings in the century-long history of commercial flight.
The terminal was more than a neat-looking loading dock. It was an answer to the changing demands of moving people and baggage in the era of mass air travel, with features like electronic schedule displays and a food court. It was also a compelling advertisement for TWA, then one of the world’s biggest airlines.
The terminal was declared a New York City Landmark in 1994, but closed in 2001, soon after TWA went out of business. Parts of it have been reopened for use by JetBlue, and now, that airline wants to turn it into a hotel.
If you don’t plan on booking a room anytime soon, you can take a look through these images from Ringli’s book, and get a taste for how the “golden age” of air travel was created.
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