There’s nothing even remotely glamorous about sleeping in an airport hotel. But in roughly 18 months, the opening of the TWA Hotel – a 505-room remastering of the spaceship-like Eero Saarinen terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport – should change that.
New renderings and design plans by MCR Development, the developer and lead investor in the project, reveal exciting new aspects about the project. They include a restaurant inside a refurbished TWA jet – which dates to 1962, like the terminal itself – and, as a representative told Bloomberg, a rooftop pool for weary travellers.
The firm, which also designed the High Line Hotel, another adaptive reuse project, in Manhattan’s Chelsea, says a primary goal is to restore the building to “its Jet Age condition,” after the building lay dormant for the past 16 years. The new plans prove it’s doing far more than that.
For architecture buffs, the real draw will be the lobby and its signature sunken lounge, originally designed by Saarinen. The lipstick-red airport seats, built into white, penny-tiled booths will stay, but the once-ubiquitous ashtrays will go, joked Tyler Morse, chief executive of MCR, during a presentation to journalists and stakeholders.
Also being restored: the terminal’s egg-shaped “split-flap” flight boards, which once click-clacked every few minutes with updated arrivals and departures. Except now they’re controlled by an app, with a new board mechanism that can display any type of relevant messaging, such as a customised welcome note for travellers checking in.
Ultimately, the lobby will fill the centre of the Jetsons-style pavilion, which can be accessed through the two original tubes connecting it to JFK’s Terminal 5. Around its perimeter will be eight bars and six restaurants – a staggering, if not unprecedented, number of public spaces for an airport hotel.
The most exciting outlets will have strong nods to TWA’s history.
Three will be revivals of once-iconic spaces: the Lisbon Lounge, which in the ’60s was all leather-tufted chairs and men in sharp suits; the Paris Café; and the Ambassador’s Club, with its signature orange banquettes and original Noguchi fountain. Designs by mid-century greats Charles Eames, Raymond Loewy, and Warren Platner are being brought back to life as well.
A fourth will be a whole new concept: a bar and restaurant inside a rather rare Lockheed Constellation plane dubbed “the Connie.” It’s the ultimate wink at the building’s biggest failure, considering that the terminal was designed specifically to accommodate the Constellation aircraft but opened after years of construction, just as they were taken out of circulation. It’s what made the TWA terminal instantly obsolete – but stands to make the TWA hotel instantly buzzy.
As for the 505 rooms? They’ll fill two curved towers currently being built from the ground up, which will loosely hug the oval shape of the Saarinen building. (Windows will be more soundproof than the current, triple-paned standard; Morse boasted his project might actually become the world’s quietest hotel.) Also included will be 50,000 square-feet of conference, event, and meeting spaces – imagine a TWA terminal wedding! – along with an “Equinox-level” gym, the rooftop pool, a TWA-themed museum with displays of vintage uniforms and New York aviation history, and a 10,000-square-foot public observation deck. The latter, in particular, points to the possibility of day passes for locals or for travellers on long layovers; the hotel will need more than late-night flight cancellations to fill its plethora of spaces.
“The debut of the TWA Hotel is great news for the Queens community and the growing number of travellers who pass through Kennedy Airport each year,” said Robin Hayes, president and chief executive officer of JetBlue Airways Corp., the major airline occupying the hotel’s neighbouring T5.
Travellers will have to wait until at least the end of 2018 to see the final product. That’s when construction is slated to wrap, if none of the 22 government agencies and organisations or 135 companies working on the project provide cause for delay. Let the click-clack, split-flap countdown begin.