The TWA Flight Center, designed by renowned architect Eero Saarinen and Associates, is an iconic airport terminal and hotel complex located at JFK airport in New York City. Built between 1959 and 1962, the original terminal building features a distinctive wing-shaped roof supported by “Y”-shaped piers and boasts an open interior with tall windows and two tube-shaped departure-arrival corridors. Despite its demolition in parts, the head house remained and was adapted into the TWA Hotel in 2019. The encircling Terminal 5 addition, designed by Gensler, was constructed between 2005 and 2008 and houses the 26 active gates at Terminal 5, as well as various dining and shopping options. Recognized as both a New York City and National Landmark, the TWA Flight Center remains a timeless masterpiece.
TWA Flight Center Technical Information
- Architects: Eero Saarinen and Associates
- Location: Terminal 5, John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, United States
- Topics: Futurist, Neo-futurist, Googie
- Area: 17225 m2 | 185408 ft2
- Project Year: 1955-1962
- Photographs: © Ezra Stoller, © Steve Knight
The purpose of architecture is to shelter and enhance man’s life on earth and to fulfill his belief in the nobility of his existence.– Eero Saarinen1
TWA Flight Center Photographs
The Pioneering Design of the TWA Flight Center
The TWA Flight Center’s head house, designed by Eero Saarinen and his associates, is a landmark in airport architecture. This innovative design showcases thin-shell construction, with a reinforced concrete shell roof supported at the corners, and incorporates elements of Futurist, Neo-futurist, Googie, and Fantastic architectural styles. Collaborators from the Saarinen office included Kevin Roche, Cesar Pelli, Norman Pettula, and Edward Saad, with Warren Platner responsible for the interiors. The roof was engineered in collaboration with Ammann & Whitney’s Charles S. Whitney and Boyd G. Anderson. The general contractor was Grove Shepherd Wilson & Kruge, while Arup handled structural engineering, Jaros, Baum & Bolles provided MEP engineering, and Langan was the civil engineer. The Terminal 5 addition, connected to the head house, is a 625,000 sq. ft. facility designed by Gensler with 26 gates and the capacity for 250 flights and 20 million passengers per day.
The Shape of the TWA Flight Center
The form of the TWA Flight Center is inspired by its unique site, featuring angled walkways and gates. Saarinen compared its shape to the “Leonardo da Vinci flying machine.” The terminal consisted of a head house with two passenger tubes extending in different directions, featuring enclosed jetways to protect passengers from the weather. The current JetBlue terminal and the TWA Hotel complex are located east of the head house and feature a crescent-shaped entry hall that wraps around the original head house. The original passenger tubes have been retained, but the original gate structures were demolished. The T5 terminal contains 26 gates.
The Exterior of the Terminal
The head house of the TWA Flight Center is a two-story structure with a distinctive thin-shell concrete roof. The roof spans a wide area using minimal material, consisting of four shells: two upward-slanting shells resembling wings at the edges and two smaller shells slanting downward toward the front and back of the building. The upward-slanting shells reach up to 75 feet (23 m) above the ground and converge at the center, where each of the four shells supports the others. The roof is supported by four Y-shaped piers facing the front and back, measuring 51 feet (16 m) tall by 315 feet (96 m) long. Skylights are located in the gaps between each shell. The main entrance is located on the land side, where the roof projects over a sidewalk (formerly a driveway) with a scupper. The roof concrete varies in thickness from 7 inches (180 mm) at the edges to 40 inches (1,000 mm) at the convergence of the four shells, weighing 6,000 short tons (5,400 t) in total. The roof shells are cantilevered up to 80 feet (24 m) and reinforced with steel to support their weight.
The main portion of the head house’s facade is made up of large green-tinted glass walls. Before 2005, these glass walls were coated with a dark-purple mylar film. The head house has single-story wings extending north and south, with concave walls and several door openings. These wings are used for maintenance purposes.
The TWA Flight Center’s head house features a unique interior design with multiple levels. The two-story building includes an intermediate level which can be reached via a central staircase or four peripheral staircases. The walls and floors were lined with ceramic tiles, and the building was equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including closed-circuit television, a public address system, baggage carousels, and split-flap display boards. The ticket counters and baggage claim areas were located at ground level for convenience, while the mechanical, service and office areas were in the partial basement. The intermediate level offered views of the tarmac from the east, and a concrete balcony spanned the central staircase from the lower level to the intermediate floor. The TWA operated its Ambassador Club on the northern portion of the upper floor, and three restaurants, the Constellation Club, Lisbon Lounge, and Paris Café, were located on the southern portion of the upper floor. Offices were also on the upper level, north, and south of the public areas.
TWA Flight Center Plans
TWA Flight Center Image Gallery
About Eero Saarinen
Eero Saarinen was a Finnish-American architect and industrial designer of the 20th century. He is best known for his modernist designs and furniture, as well as his contribution to the architectural world with structures like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport in New York, and the Ingalls Hockey Rink at Yale University. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential architects of the mid-20th century.
- Designing TWA: Eero Saarinens Flughafenterminal in New York by de Kornel Ringli