Beyer Blinder Belle
New York, United States
Richard W. Southwick, FAIA, LEED AP
Of the project's 12 contributing authors, only 5 are included in the fields below. Full information has been emailed to Sasha Zanko, MCHAP Program Coordinator.
Tyler Morse, Founder & CEO of MCR Development
Beyer Blinder Belle (images 1, 3, 6, 7, 8); David Mitchell (images 2, 9, 10); John Bartelstone (image 4); and Eric Laignel (images 5, 11, 12)
During the project’s first phase, BBB led the painstaking restoration of the Flight Center, whose condition severely degraded during its final years of occupancy. More than 20 million “Penny” tiles were custom crafted and masterfully installed. The split-flap Solari information boards were reconstructed. The Sunken Lounge, which had been removed in the 1990s, was fully restored. A curtain wall of trapezoidal plate glass panels and neoprene gaskets had chronically failed and was replaced with new tempered glass, visually matching the original assembly. Yale’s Saarinen Archives were essential, yielding original drawings, specifications, photographs, and material samples.
BBB continued its design leadership into the project’s second phase. Together with the developer, the team achieved a balance between restoration and new construction. Non-original portions of the Flight Center, constructed after the 1962–1970 Period of Significance, were removed to make space for a contemporary 512-room hotel. Two seven-story hotel wings were positioned outboard of the Flight Center’s passenger tubes, preserving the main entrance’s historic viewshed. Constructed with 7-lite triple-glazed IGU, the new curtain wall acoustically isolates the guest rooms from the adjacent runways. The new interiors convey a refined elegance with a rich palette of woods, metals, and glass, extending a modern design legacy throughout all areas of the project.
The team worked collaboratively with over fifty public agencies, advocacy groups, and community groups to achieve project approval, including the FAA, the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the NYS Historic Preservation Office, the NYC Building and Fire Departments, and PANYNJ.
The TWA Flight Center, designed by Eero Saarinen, is one of the most celebrated examples of mid-century modern architecture; its sweeping, expressive form serves as a metaphor for flight. Saarinen introduced numerous operational innovations such as jetways and baggage carousels when the building opened in 1962. Designed for the advent of the jet age, including small-scale Boeing 707s and Supersonic Transports, the terminal became obsolete within a decade because of increasing aircraft size and the aviation industry’s explosive growth. After multiple bankruptcies, TWA ceased operations in 2001; the Flight Center shuttered shortly thereafter.
Two campaigns have since restored the landmark structure and adapted it to a new hotel use. Phase I work—undertaken by Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB) for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ)—stabilized the building, listed it on the National Register of Historic Places (catalyzing eligibility for Historic Tax Credits), and in 2012 restored the historic core of the original Saarinen building, preparatory to a Developer RFP being issued. In 2015, MCR Development was selected for its plan to convert the Flight Center into a lobby for two hotel structures and a new underground event space. MCR assembled a collaborative team of designers, led by BBB, to implement this Phase II work.
Vacant for more than seventeen years, the revitalized Flight Center opened as the TWA Hotel in May 2019. The project serves as a role model for preserving historic structures by creatively adapting them for relevant new uses.
The transformed Flight Center houses six restaurants and lounges, new retail, and a 10,000-square foot fitness center. Arrayed between the historic terminal and the JetBlue arrivals roadway—on a significantly restricted site—are the two new seven-story hotel wings, which house 512 guest rooms, and a subterranean 46,000-square foot Event Center. The hotel’s dark gray curtain wall provides a neutral backdrop to the sculptural Flight Center that is much more sympathetic than the active terminal beyond.
The roof of the southern hotel wing features an infinity pool and bar with runway views, while the northern wing’s roof houses a 1.3-megawatt natural gas co-generation plant that accommodates all electrical and HVAC needs of the TWA Hotel. The Flight Center’s original passenger tubes have been restored and, today, link the hotel and Event Center as well as JetBlue’s Terminal 5. The Event Center, constructed 30 feet below grade, comprises a 7,000-square foot ballroom, a 2,500-square foot pre-function space, and more than 40 meeting rooms. Above, on a terrace behind the Flight Center, sits a restored Lockheed 1649A Constellation aircraft—the “Connie”—serving a new life as cocktail lounge.
As the only on-airport, monorail-accessible hotel, the facility provides 24-hour amenities to the 160,000 daily travelers passing through John F. Kennedy International Airport. In 2019, an estimated 20,000 travelers had layovers of 3+ hours. The Event Center can host conferences, weddings, and other events for up to 1,600 people—benefiting airport users, the local community, and the wider NYC metropolitan region.