Eero Saarinen’s iconic Jet Age terminal at JFK Airport has
been transformed into a truly cool hotel
After 18 years of being mostly hidden from public view, one of
New York’s best and
most iconic buildings is ready to welcome visitors.
The TWA Flight
Center, the striking Jet Age marvel designed by Eero Saarinen,
has been transformed into the
TWA Hotel, a faithful restoration of the Finnish architect’s
masterpiece with the addition of hundreds of rooms and modern
amenities. The Saarinen head house functions as the hotel’s
lobby, meaning anyone—hotel guests or curious architecture
buffs—may stand under its swooping concrete shell again.
The hotel’s debut is the culmination of more than two decades
of work by preservationists, architects, and elected officials to
protect Saarinen’s midcentury icon, while also finding a new use
for it. The building opened in 1962 but was already “functionally
obsolete” by that point, according to Tyler Morse, the CEO of
MCR, the development firm responsible for the revamp. It was only
open for 39 years, and when the terminal stopped operations, the
fate of Saarinen’s futuristic structure was uncertain. The Port
Authority, which owns the building, hired architects Beyer Blinder
Belle to restore the space (the firm remains on the project to this
day), and other hoteliers were briefly courted, but concrete plans
for its future didn’t come into focus until 2015.
That was the year that MCR won the bid to develop the property,
and work on the hotel began in earnest. And from the start, Morse
knew that he wanted to keep the vintage vibe of the space alive.
“We’re bringing the building back to exactly as it was in
1962,” he explains.
The Sunken Lounge, now a cocktail bar.
A view of the Saarinen building’s concrete shell.
Part of the reason for that is by design; the building is a New
York City landmark and landed on the National Register of Historic
Places in 2005. “We have a real debt to pay to the
preservationist community,” says Morse. “They saved this
building.” Since MCR began the redevelopment process, the firm
has met with 14 preservation groups—including the Municipal Art
Society, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the New
York Landmarks Conservancy—and consulted with dozens of other
interested parties to ensure their restoration is sensitive. Even
the Finnish embassy, seeking to protect the legacy of one of its
most famous names, got involved.
But irrespective of the city and federal protections for the
building, Morse is simply really enthusiastic about bringing the
swooping structure back to life. “This is really a piece of art,
moreso than a building,” Morse enthuses.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better collection of
midcentury treasures anywhere in the city—what Morse called “a
cacophony of midcentury design greats.” Saarinen tapped his
contemporaries, including Isamu Noguchi, Charles Eames, Warren
Platner, and Raymond Loewy, to add their own decorative touches to
the space when it was conceived. Many of those remain, including
Noguchi’s marble fountain near what used to be the Ambassador
“We wanted to stay true to Eero Saarinen’s intent, and he
brought a lot of friends into this project,” Morse says.
Saarinen’s own designs for Florence Knoll were also incorporated
into the revamped lobby, including pedestal dining tables and Tulip
chairs. (Mies van der Rohe wasn’t exactly one of the
architect’s contemporaries, but some of his midcentury
furniture—specifically, chairs from the Four Seasons Restaurant
that MCR snagged at auction—are also found in the hotel.)
© Christopher Payne/Esto The flight center’s “tubes” connect
the TWA Hotel lobby to the hotel rooms.
Many of the building’s most iconic elements have been
well-preserved, and will come to life in new ways when the hotel
opens. The Sunken Lounge, with its rich red upholstery and Solari
departures board, is now a cocktail bar operated by the Gerber
Group. The former Paris Café has been reborn, this time under the
direction of famed French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. And the
red carpeted tunnels that connect the circa-1962 building to
JetBlue’s newer Terminal 5 will also lead hotel guests to their
rooms, which are located in two semicircular buildings that flank
the historic structure.
There are also nods to the history of TWA, which stopped
operating in 2001; artifacts from the airline’s
history—including uniforms, flatware, and other tchotchkes—are
on display in a small museum on the lower level, and part of the
lobby is named the Hughes Wing in honor of Howard Hughes, the
eccentric movie mogul who owned TWA and tapped Saarinen to design
the place. The coolest artifact: a decommissioned Lockheed
Constellation airplane that’s been transformed into a 125-seat
But even with all the nods to the past, the amenities on offer
are thoroughly modern: MCR tapped hip retailers and restaurateurs,
including Warby Parker and Intelligentsia Coffee, to set up shop
within the hotel, and there’ll be a food hall with vendors like
beloved Midtown lunch peddlers Halal Guys. (Phaidon and Herman
Miller also collaborated on a reading room, for the midcentury
modern aficionados visiting the hotel.)
There’s also a 10,000-square-foot fitness center, tons of
conference center space, and best of all, a rooftop pool and
observation deck with runway views.
Hotel rooms have Saarinen-designed furniture and millwork crafted
by Amish artisans, among other features.
Rooms, meanwhile, are a mix of old and new. Design firm
Stonehill Taylor realized MCR’s vision of 1962, which combines a
few different design elements of the era: warm walnut accents
(including a martini bar, of course), brass light fixtures, and
terrazzo floors; Knoll furnishings that speak to the corporate
modernism of the ’60s; and a bathroom vanity meant to evoke
Saarinen’s ladies’ room at the old Four Seasons Restaurant.
Staying overnight costs $250, with a “day stay”—a shorter,
four-hour block intended for travelers who need to crash for a few
hours—priced at $150 (Morse says the hotel is on track to reach
200 percent occupancy thanks, in part, to this offering).
As for who the hotel’s clientele will be, Morse acknowledges
that many will be in the “a night and a flight” category, or
use the hotel primarily for its abundance of event space. (MCR
anticipates that they’ll get at least 100 weddings per year in
its ballrooms, also appealingly outfitted in midcentury style.) But
those who’ve been clamoring for access to Saarinen’s
masterpiece for close to two decades—architecture and aviation
geeks—won’t be disappointed. (You can even select a
“runway” or “landmark” view when booking a room.)
Source: FS – NYC Real Estate
The TWA Hotel, a spectacular midcentury time capsule, finally opens