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 17.6 acres (7.1 ha)
Architect Eero Saarinen and Associates; et al.
Architectural style Neo-futuristic
NRHP Reference # 05000994[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP September 7, 2005
Designated NYCL July 19, 1994

The TWA Flight Center or Trans World Flight Center, 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 has been renovated and is partially encircled by a replacement terminal building, which was completed in 2008. Together, the old and new buildings comprise JetBlue Airways' JFK operations and have been known collectively since 2008 as Terminal 5 or simply T5.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates JFK Airport, had once intended the TWA Flight Center as a ceremonial entrance to the replacement terminal and has since announced plans to convert the original head house into a hotel, to open in 2018. The construction on the new hotel began in August, 2016.[2]

Both the interior and the exterior were declared a New York City Landmark in 1994. In 2005, the terminal was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Noted architect Robert A. M. Stern called the TWA Flight Center the "Grand Central of the jet age".[3] The pragmatic new encircling terminal has been called "hyper-efficient"[4] and a "monument to human throughput".[5]


View of TWA Flight Center
Original concourse

Saarinen's original design featured a prominent wing-shaped thin shell roof over the headhouse (or main terminal); unusual tube-shaped departure-arrival corridors, originally wrapped in red carpet; and tall windows enabling expansive views departing and arriving jets. The concrete shell, which inspired Saarinen to develop curved-edge ceramic tiles conforming to the curvilinear shapes. The design straddles Futurism, Googie and Fantastic architecture.[6]

The terminal was one of the first with enclosed passenger jetways,[7] closed circuit television, a central public address system, baggage carousels,[7] electronic schedule board and baggage scales, and the satellite clustering of gates away from the main terminal.[7] Food and beverage services included the Constellation Club, Lisbon Lounge, and Paris Café. However, 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.[8]

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.


1962–2001: Original terminal

A map of JFK T5. The original terminal, which is the headhouse, is shown in red on the left. The 2008 expansion is shown in yellow on the right.
Components of JFK T5:

The original terminal opened in 1962 as the original terminal designed by Eero Saarinen for Trans World Airlines at Idlewild Airport (now JFK Airport). Saarinen and his Detroit-based firm were commissioned in 1955 to design the TWA Flight Center.[9]

Saarinen, who projected a high patronage for the terminal, conceived the terminal to speed up processes. At the same time, the bird-shaped, emblematic construction 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 mainly to exploit market opportunities. Thus, the TWA Terminal represents an entirely different approach than the thin concrete shells constructed at the same time. The terminal was built to span a space with a minimum of material. Saarinen, who was known as an indefatigable architect, indicated to his client that he needed more time, then took another year to resolve the design.[6] The airline, with the support of Saarinen’s wife Aline, exploited 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.

A footbridge spans the terminal
The Union News restaurants coffee shop, TWA Flight Center (at then Idlewild Airport), by Raymond Loewy

We wanted passengers passing through the building to experience a fully-designed 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 Two, the expansion was designed by Roche-Dinkeloo to accommodate then-new wide-body aircraft, such as the Boeing 747.[8]

The City of New York designated both the interiors and the exteriors of the Eero Saarinen-designed terminal a historic landmark in 1994.[7]

2001–2008: Closure and landmark status

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.[14] 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.[15] 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."[15] Philip Johnson, speaking at the 2001 presentation, said of the proposal:

This building represents a new idea in 20th-century architecture, and yet we are willing to strangle it by enclosing it within another building. Imagine, tying a bird's wings up. This will make the building invisible. If you're going to strangle a building to death, you might as well tear it down.

In 2004, the dormant terminal briefly hosted an art exhibition called Terminal 5,[16] featuring the work of 19 artists from 10 countries.[8][17] The theme of the show featured work, lectures and temporary installations drawing inspiration from the terminal's architecture[8] — and was to run from October 1, 2004 to January 31, 2005[8] — though it closed abruptly after the building itself was vandalized during its opening gala.[9][18][19] 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.[16]

In 2005, the National Park Service listed the TWA Flight Center on the National Register of Historic Places.[20]

2008–present: Re-use plans and hotel construction

As of 2008, JetBlue and PANYNJ had yet to complete renovation of the original Saarinen head house, and the building has stood empty while they decided what its future role should be. Early proposals included a conference center, an aviation museum, and a restaurant,[21] or a place to check in for flights departing from the newer JetBlue T5 building.[22] In April 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported that JetBlue and its partner, a hotel developer, were negotiating for the rights to turn the head house into a hotel.[23]

In September 2015, New York State governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed that the Saarinen building would be converted into a new on-site hotel for the airport's passengers. Construction began August 2016,[24] The hotel, scheduled to open in 2018, proposes 505 guest rooms, 40,000 square feet of meeting space, and an observation deck of 10,000 square feet.[25]

JetBlue T5

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[20]). Peripheral portions of the original facility were demolished to make space for a mostly new 625,000-square-foot (58,100 m2) facility designed by Gensler, including 26 gates to accommodate 250 flights per day[26] and 20 million passengers annually.[27] 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,[21] 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[28] at a cost of $895,000,[21] only to be later demolished when the project's budget prioritized renovating the head house.[20]

T5 reopened on October 22, 2008,[29] 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[20][30] and counting down the reopening via Twitter.[31] The new terminal features a 55,000-square-foot (5,100 m2) retail area with 22 food concessions and 35 specialty retail stores[26] along with free wireless Internet access, a children’s play area and a 1,500-space parking garage.[31] As the first airline terminal at JFK designed after the September 11, 2001, attacks,[4][32] the new 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[20] 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).[33]

While noted architect Robert A. M. Stern had called the evocative Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center "Grand Central of the jet age",[3] the pragmatic new encircling terminal has been called "hyper-efficient"[4] and a "monument to human throughput".[5]

See also


  1. National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. Peterson, Barbara. "TWA Terminal Hotel Construction Begins at JFK". Conde Nast Traveler. Retrieved 17 November 2016.’s official: Work has begun, and construction workers have been spotted at the site, along with a huge mound of earth piling up next to the iconic edifice (we’re told an official groundbreaking ceremony will be held soon.)
  3. 1 2 "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.
  4. 1 2 3 "Where JetBlue Put Its Millions". Time Magazine, Deirdre van Dyk, August 5, 2008. August 5, 2008. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  5. 1 2 "JetBlue's New Terminal at JFK Offers Huge Capacity, No Charm"., James S. Russell, October 22, 2008.
  6. 1 2 "Reconsidering Eero". Metropolis Magazine, Paul Makovsky, September 19, 2005.
  7. 1 2 3 4 "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.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 "Now Boarding: Destination, JFK". The Architects Newspaper, September 21, 2004.
  9. 1 2 "A Review of a Show You Cannot See"., Tom Vanderbilt, January 14, 2005.
  10. Ringli, Kornel (March 22, 2013). "Eero Saarinens TWA-Terminal in New York: Beflügelter Mythos" via NZZ.
  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. "Unusual Planning Duel Over Kennedy Terminal". The New York Times, David W. Dunlap, November 28, 2002. February 21, 2008. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  15. 1 2 "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.
  16. 1 2 "TWA Terminal Named as One of the Nation's Most Endangered Places". Municipal Art Society New York, February 9, 2004.
  17. "2004, "Terminal 5: Now Closed," gallery exhibition at Colette, Paris". Rachel K. Ward,.
  18. "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.
  19. "Art Exhibition at JFK Airport's TWA Terminal Abruptly Shut Down". Architectural Record, John E. Czarnecki,, October 11, 2004.
  20. 1 2 3 4 5 "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.
  21. 1 2 3 Margaret Foster (March 27, 2008). "Moved Once, Saarinen's TWA Trumpet To Fall". Archived from the original on March 13, 2009.
  22. Russell, James S. (October 23, 2008) "JetBlue's New Terminal at JFK Offers Huge Capacity, No Charm" Bloomberg
  23. Karmin, Craig (April 14, 2015). "JetBlue Wants to Turn Former TWA Terminal Into Hotel". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 18, 2015.
  24. Peterson, Barbara. "TWA Terminal Hotel Construction Begins at JFK". Conde Nast Traveler. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  25. "Governor Cuomo Announces 75-Year Lease Deal Turning JFK's Historic TWA Flight Center Into Hotel Complex". Website of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. Press office of the New York State governor. September 24, 2015. Retrieved November 3, 2015.
  26. 1 2 "Mayor Bloomberg, Port Authority and Jetblue Cut Ribbon on New $875 Million Terminal at JFK Airport".
  27. "Gensler Designing Jet Blue Terminal at JFK Airport". Architectural Record, August 10, 2004.
  28. Krista Walton (April 23, 2007). "Saarinen's TWA Trumpet To Move". National Trust for Historic Preservation.
  29. "Travel Intel".
  30. "JetBlue Airways Terminal 5 signage". Communication Arts, January 16, 2009.
  31. 1 2 "JetBlue Twitters its New Terminal". The New York Times, Micheline Maynard, October 22, 2008. October 22, 2008. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  32. "Prepared for Takeoff". Architects Online, Sara Hart, December 1, 2008.
  33. "JetBlue's Terminal Takes Wing". Business Week, Innovation, Andrew Blum, July 21, 2005.
External images
TWA Flight Center: c. 1962, Departure & Arrival Board
TWA Flight Center: c. 1962, Departure & Arrival Corridor
TWA Flight Center: c. 1962, Interior View

Coordinates: 40°38′45″N 73°46′39″W / 40.645826°N 73.777539°W / 40.645826; -73.777539

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