For those who set their sights aloft, it was an especially memorable year. In 1962, space exploration was still new and novel: John Glenn had just become the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the earth, circling three times in the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule. The age of jet travel was in full throttle. And at New York City's John F. Kennedy Airport, the TWA Flight Center — also known as the Trans World Flight Center — opened to the public. Designed by architect Eero Saarinen, the instantly iconic bird-shaped terminal perfectly captured the futuristic spirit of the '60s.
In another 10 months, after years of inactivity, this aviation landmark will reopen its doors, serving as the 200,000-square-foot lobby and check-in area for the new 512-room TWA Hotel. The new property will comprise two low-rise structures that can be reached directly from Terminal 5 through the original terminal's sleek tubes.
It's been a long slog for this $300 million project, which began in 2015. Tyler Morse, CEO of New York City-based MCR and Morse Development, which owns the project, filled me in on what travelers can expect next spring when the doors finally open to the public.
"In 1962 anything was possible, and we want to bring the ethos of that year to this project," said Morse, whose passion and vision for the terminal's rebirth is contagious. "Not only is it a celebration of architecture, it will be a destination onto itself. It will make people actually want to get in their cars and drive to the airport to experience something exciting. It's fun. It's cool. There is really nothing else like it, and on top of that, you get to experience an important part of aviation history."
The building's designation as a New York City Landmark and its place on the National Register of Historic Places brought a myriad of complexities to the project. Morse said his team needed to juggle 22 government agencies, 173 design firms and spend more than $60 million just bringing the building up to code. Ask about the potential noise level, and Morse is quick to point out that at 5 inches thick, the TWA Hotel's glass curtain wall by Fabbrica is the second thickest in the world after the wall of the U.S. Embassy in London. "I can guarantee you it's quieter than any Four Seasons Hotel in the world," he said, "and we also spent considerable time on the blackout curtains."
The hotel will feature a 10,000-square-foot observation deck overlooking the runway, six restaurants and seven bars, along with a rooftop infinity pool and a 10,000-square foot gym. A refurbished Lockheed Constellation "Connie" L-1649A Starliner has been repurposed as a cocktail lounge and will be positioned on the tarmac between the TWA Flight Center and Terminal 5. "People appreciate differentiation these days," Moore noted, "and this project is a celebration of architecture."