The opening of the TWA Hotel today this afternoon at John F. Kennedy Airport may be one of the most anticipated events of 2019. The redevelopment has certainly been tailor-made for PR moments – the arrival of a 1958 TWA Constellation plane “Connie” to Times Square, the creation of a lounge version of the hotel inside 1 World Trade Center, the Louis Vuitton Cruise 2020 fashion show, and more. But the restoration, reuse, and re-opening of this space really belongs to the passionate TWA community, who have been long-anticipating this moment, and the long list of design firms, artisans, and others who have worked on this project – some for several decades.
In 2012, when we were one of the first media outlets granted access into the TWA Flight Center, we were overwhelmed by the over 100 responses in comments on our piece by former TWA employees who shared their stories and memories of working and walking through the terminal. Today, at the press opening we spoke with former TWA flight attendant, Marcia Bytnar-Rouse, whose sister was also a flight attendant and was supposed to be on TWA Flight 800. Standing in front of the Solari departure board, she told us, “This board means a lot. All we would hear is it go, click click click click. The green [light], the red. Beautiful. We always said we’re more than a company, we’re a family. It’s like a family reunion back at our house.”
In anticipation of the opening of the TWA Hotel, we also spoke with Beyer Blinder Belle architect Richard Southwick (also the recent subject in the debut of our column NYC Makers, who has been working on the restoration of the Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center since 1994. He shared with us many design features not to miss when visiting the new 512-room hotel. Beyer Blinder Belle is also the architecture firm of record for the new hotel, with Lubrano Ciavarra Architects as the Hotel Design Architect, Stonehill Taylor for guest room interior design and the design of the Connie cocktail bar, INC Architects for event space interior design, and MCR/MORSE Development as the developer.
Southwick tells us that the redevelopment aimed to capture the essence of the original design, but with a modern sensibility, particularly in areas of new construction. “We’ve always used the term ‘What would Saarinen do’ today? We never want to replicate precisely what would have been done sixty years ago. We want to really capture the spirit, the ethos and the design sensibility of the original designer.” As such, the conference center and hotel rooms, he says, allow for much wider references in terms of architectural and interior design, beyond the TWA Flight Center itself. The design in those areas pays homage to and is inspired by other works by Saarinen. Southwick says, “You can start to play this game – which Saarinen building is referenced here?”
And so without further ado, here are 10 fun design facts to look out for when visiting the new TWA Hotel! We’ll be staying overnight at the hotel tonight so follow our adventures on Instagram @untappedcities!
1. The TWA Hotel Preserves the Eero Saarinen-Designed TWA Flight Center
As an exterior and interior New York City Landmark, the TWA Flight Center had to be redeveloped carefully and sensitively. All new construction sits outside the original tubes (made famous by Leonardo Dicaprio in Catch Me If You Can) so that if you are sitting in the red Sunken Lounge inside the Flight Center (now a lobby bar run by the Gerber Group) you will not see anything new obstructing the view (apart from the Jet Blue terminal that opened in 2008). To make the view feel even more like the original, a large concrete roof over the conference center is designed to replicate a runway, replete with runway lights and a vintage 1958 TWA Constellation airplane, affectionately known as “Connie.”
On the interior of the original Flight Center, Southwick tells us that apart from an old baggage area “every other use of the flight center is almost exactly what was there historically – waiting areas, cocktail lounges, ticket check-in for airline passengers now is hotel check-in, the other check-in is going to be the food hall.” In total there will be six restaurants, eight bars, a rooftop infinity pool, a 10,000 square foot public observation deck, and 50,000 square feet of event and conference space.