Eero Saarinen's TWA terminal is restored, repurposed and reborn as the TWA Hotel

TWA hotel
© Lloyd Alter

Did we say we hate concrete? Just the new stuff. This kind of concrete should be buffed, polished and treasured.

I complain a lot about concrete, about the amount of CO2 generated in its manufacture, about all the aggregate and all of the trucks carrying it all.

But old concrete is another story. Architects did such wonderful things with it, so plastic, so flexible, you could make it any shape. Over a couple of decades, concrete even keeps absorbing CO2, sucking back the CO2 given off when making the cement.

That's one reason we should try and keep concrete buildings around a long time; many are knocked down before the cement in them has completely cured. One fabulous building that we nearly lost was Eero Saarinen's 1962 TWA terminal at JFK Airport in New York. According to Aline Saarinen, Eero’s wife, “He wanted the…Flight Center to express the drama and wonder of air travel. He wanted to provide a building in which the human being felt uplifted, important and full of anticipation.” It has been called "the Grand Central of the jet age." It was listed as historic back in 1994, but since then it was abandoned for years, surrounded by a new JetBlue terminal. Since I had a flight scheduled out of JFK, I came a day early to check out how this restoration and repurposing turned out.

TWA hotel© Lloyd Alter

It turned out gloriously. Architect Lubrano Ciavarra has stripped out years of additions to bring it back to its glory days. The old terminal is immaculately restored, down to the clicking signs. It's flanked by two wings of hotel rooms overlooking the hotel or the runways. You would think, being an airport hotel, that they would be noisy, but it is perhaps the quietest hotel room I have ever been in, thanks to triple-glazed windows. According to Sydney Franklin in An Interior,

"[Architect] Lubrano Ciavarra enveloped the structure with a 21-inch-thick, seven-layer curtain wall system that was developed in collaboration with acoustical experts Cerami & Associates and facade consultants Front, Inc. The air cavities within the system offset the deep boom of planes taking off while the density of the glass, which weighs 1,740 lbs. per unit, prevents guests from hearing the high-frequency noises of vehicular traffic on site."

TWA hotel© Melissa Breyer

There's lots to do in this hotel, not your usual quick airport layover; there is a museum display of uniforms, a fancy restaurant, a food hall, the best equipped gym I have ever seen, a reading room and conference facilities. The business plan is to get a lot of day traffic and short stays to reach 200 percent occupancy, which is unheard of. Oh, and there is also a Lockheed Constellation (pictured top, and the interior with a bar, above right), which until the 707 jet came along, was the queen of the skies.

TWA hotel© Lloyd Alter

Concrete is one of those things that I do not believe we should be using for buildings now, which is all the more reason to treasure the ones we have. It's why I am such a fan of Brutalism and of Le Corbusier; it is concrete at its best. And I will be showing a lot more of it on TreeHugger.

TWA hotel© Lloyd Alter

Eero Saarinen's TWA terminal is restored, repurposed and reborn as the TWA Hotel
Did we say we hate concrete? Just the new stuff. This kind of concrete should be buffed, polished and treasured.

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