My time at Beyer Blinder Belle this summer has been spent working on design development for the adaptive reuse of the TWA Terminal Flight Center at JFK International Airport in Queens, New York. This project addresses a key aspect of preservation – redevelopment of historic buildings. How does an architect design an addition to a historic building? How does one retain the integrity of an iconic architectural landmark while reinventing the building’s use and altering its context? These were some questions I was included in addressing and thoughtfully considering this summer.

One of the great aspects of working on the project has been learning the history and importance of the TWA Terminal. The concept began in the late 1950’s when Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen was commissioned to design a ground breaking structure to capture the “spirit of flight.” The flight center was completed in 1962. With its sweeping symmetric concrete “wings” that bring to mind a bird in flight, it was instantly a New York City landmark. Although major changes to the scale of flight travel proceeded the construction which rendered the building almost impossible to use for its intended purpose, the building still remained iconic.

In 2012 BBB completed a nearly decade’s long effort to stabilize and restore key portions of the flight center. This included removing some later additions to the building, repairing concrete, restoring the historic entryway, and refurbishing the main public areas. Now, just a few years later, the next phase of reviving TWA is occurring. The flight center is being transformed into a lobby space for the new hotel buildings that will be built to the rear of the center. The hotel consists of two semi circular glazed towers that will be accessible through the existing concrete tubes. Key elements of the TWA terminal, such as the ticket lobby halls and sunken lounge, will remain, to be reused as food halls, hotel check-in areas, and public bars and restaurants. Underground spaces will be adapted for the needs of the hotel’s service staff and will connect underground to the two hotel towers by new tunnels. A large conference center will lie below ground, between the two hotel wings with design inspiration being taken from Saarinen’s flight center. Although the new hotel buildings might seem intrusive, their simple profiles with slender vertical mullions will provide a backdrop for the flight center, allowing the concrete and glass structure to remain center stage.

This internship has been a unique experience as I have been involved in conversations on both new building (both above and below ground) and how to successfully alter the existing structure. Working mainly with Revit, I have been aiding the DD process by developing the 3D model. I have been part of a team that is further developing design schemes that were established during the schematic phase earlier in the year. We have been using Saarinen’s original drawings, along with documentation from other additions that had taken place to the building over time, to inform what is possible to reconfigure with existing structure. The documents have also revealed elements that may have been removed over time and that we now have the option to incorporate in the redesign.

The innovative engineering and architecture that went into the TWA Flight Center has made this an intriguing project to work on. It has been exciting knowing that this endeavor ensures the preservation of a modern architectural masterpiece. Creative reuse and carefully placed additions to the TWA Flight Center will make this structure soar once again in the 21st century.

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TWA Flight Center, 1962 photograph by Ezra Stoller [Yossi Milo Gallery]
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