Perhaps it’s my childhood of 1970’s suburban Washington, D.C., as well as my fondness for organic forms in art and architecture. Or maybe it’s my love of traveling to new places. But there’s something about the recently transformed, Saarinen-designed Landmark TWA Flight Center, the TWA Hotel, that makes my heart soar. Growing up in Reston, Virginia, I experienced iconic Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen’s work firsthand with his Washington Dulles International Airport in my backyard, which straddles Fairfax and Loudoun Counties in Virginia. With its majestic, upward-sweeping swaths of concrete and windows that nearly touch the sky, Saarinen desired that his Dulles Airport Terminal would be the soul of the airport. My young spirit felt lifted.
TWA Flight Center at Kennedy International Airport was designed by Saarinen in 1957, practically coinciding with his 1958 design of Dulles Airport. It utilized similar convention-breaking and “jet age” motifs: soaring, sweeping, organically-shaped concrete, steel and glass. Both terminals stand as monuments of flight. Saarinen wanted the new terminal to be practically useful as well as a symbol to “interpret the sensation of flying.” Saarinen also, “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.” Outfitted with state-of-the-art innovations when it opened in 1962, it housed three restaurants, an Ambassador’s Club and offices in addition to being a functioning airline terminal intended to accommodate thousands of passengers daily. Architect and interior designer Warren Platner collaborated with Saarinen on the interiors, and the Hotel features replicas of the original furnishings that include brass lighting, walnut-accented furnishings, and rotary phones. The red carpeting that weaves throughout the hotel is reflective of the color of the furniture in the original TWA Lounge as well as the TWA logo itself.
A three-year mammoth undertaking by hotel-owner operator firm MCR, TWA Hotel opened for travelers in May 2019, 57 years after the TWA Flight Center was completed and dedicated. With 512 “ultra-quiet” guestrooms, a rooftop heated infinity pool, 4 food outposts to dine well or grab lighter fare in, a Twister room, immersive museum exhibits on TWA, the Jet Age and the midcentury modern design movement; the hotel is a destination all on its own. And because there are a number of reasons why airplane travel is severely restricted this Labor Day 2020, another visit to the hotel would assuage wanderlust. A stay in one of those nostalgic guestrooms would suffice just as well.
Christine Negroni quotes Aline B. Saarinen, Eero’s wife, in her New York Times article, “He wanted to provide a building in which the human being felt uplifted, important and full of anticipation.” Though Saarinen never lived to see these two terminals come to completion, rest assured that his testament to the soul is alive and well. As the hotel’s website now beckons: “Come fly with us.” TWA Hotel offers the possibility to take flight, without your feet ever leaving the ground.
iPhone snaps Beth Horta for Sweet Sabelle.