Iconic TWA Terminal at New York’s JFK Airport Is Getting a Retro Restoration

TWA Terminal | © Maz Touhey
TWA Terminal | © Maz Touhey
Photo of Amber C. Snider
Home & Design Editor1 December 2017

Eero Saarinen’s 1962 mid-century modern landmark at New York City’s TWA Terminal in JFK airport is getting a nostalgic restoration, hearkening back the golden age of travel. Culture Trip spoke to Tyler Morse, CEO of MCR and the developer behind the project, about the importance of preserving Saarinen’s original aesthetic.

TWA Terminal | © Max Touhey

After closing to the public over 15 years ago, the iconic TWA Flight Center terminal will soon return to its full glory. The historic redevelopment by MCR, JetBlue, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will not only restore Eero Saarinen’s original design, but it will also bring over 3,700 jobs to the metropolitan area.

Plans for the retro upgrade include a 505-guestroom hotel, complete with eight restaurants and six bars, a museum, and a public observation deck.

TWA Terminal Entry | Courtesy of MCR Development

One of the highlights of the project is the restoration of Saarinen’s signature red chili pepper sunken lounge and interiors by Charles Eames, Warren Platner, and Raymond Loewy. “We are bringing the building back to exactly how it was in 1962. It’s a historically accurate restoration of the space. The iconic sunken lounge and old ticketing counters, the penny tile, the bolted ceilings. It’s going to look and feel just like it did [back then], as Saarinen intended it,” says Tyler Morse, CEO of MCR, in an interview.

Reception desk modeled after Jet Age city center TWA ticket counters created by iconic mid-century industrial designer Raymond Loewy. Located at 1WTC in the TWA Lounge | © Emily Gilbert

For Morse, the reemergence of this space isn’t a nostalgic throwback to the once-glamorous affair of flying, but more about capturing the feeling people got when they traveled in the ’60s. “It was quite a special event to fly on a airplane in 1962,” he says. “What we’re creating is a place that is very special, it’s special physically, it has the ethos of a wonderful era: When Kennedy was president, when the first color TV show was on prime time, when John Glenn had just orbited the earth. Anything was possible in that time period. It was after the war, after the post-Levittown days in the 50s, but before drugs and Vietnam.”

“It was kind of a wonderful period where anything could happen in America. And it’s that spirit that we’re bringing back through the design and the experience.”

Ambassadors Lounge in TWA Lounge at 1WTC with vintage Saarinen Tulip Chairs with original 1962 Knoll fabric seats, Saarinen Executive Side Chairs, Arm Chairs and marble Pedestal tables, all produced by Knoll | © Emily Gilbert

The new TWA hotel will include mid-century décor in its interiors as well, as a homage to the Finnish-American architect known for his eccentric, neo-futuristic designs. And better yet, Morse says all the facilities will be for public use: “Travelers, New Yorkers, airport team members, everyone in the local community—everything will be open to the public. We’re encouraging people to interact with the building and interact with Saarinen’s masterpiece. [We want them to] wonder around and discover little aspects of Saarinen’s design that are quite amazing,” he says.

TWA Terminal at JFK | © Max Touhey

The project will cost approximately $265 million, all of which comes from a privately funded investment, and a 10,000 square foot observation deck so that the public can watch the planes take off and land. Designs for the deck haven’t been released to the public yet, but Morse says that it’s set to be “quite remarkable.”

“On one side of the Observation Deck, you can observe the Saarinen building—it provides a beautiful vantage point to look at the whole facility and structure. On the top side, you’ll be able to look at the airfield,” says Morse.

TWA Hotel rendering MCR Development | © MCR

Aside from the restorative design, there is one seemingly insurmountable design “problem” when it comes to building a hotel at one of the world’s busiest airports: noise pollution. New York City already exists in a constant hum of chaotic sound. Just couple that with an airport hotel and the prospect of a good night’s rest, and you have the potential sound of disaster. Luckily, MCR has a solution: “Our window glass is designed to have a sound transmission rating above 50, which is higher than any Four Seasons hotel. We have seven layers of glass, so it’s going to be the quietest hotel room you’ve ever stayed in.”

We’ll have to wait until 2019 to test that one out, but one thing is certain: the restoration of Eero Saarinen’s classic design is sure to take things up a notch at JFK.

TWA Terminal | © Max Touhey

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