Dees Stribling, Bisnow National Want to get a jump-start on upcoming deals? Meet the major players at one of our upcoming national events! Renowned architect César Pelli died Friday at 92. Pelli grew up in Argentina and came to the United States in the 1950s for graduate studies, working for a decade for architect Eero Saarinen in Michigan and then for firms on the West Coast. In 1977, he founded his own firm, currently known as Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, and also became dean of the Yale School of Architecture, a post he held until 1984.
It’s hard to imagine, but Idlewild—now John F. Kennedy—Airport in New York was briefly, in the mid-20th century, a rather pleasant place to visit. Not unlike the corporations that set up pavilions at World’s Fairs on the other side of Queens, private airlines were encouraged to design their own terminals here around a central public space, each airline declaring its brand through modern architecture. A 1955 plan for the budding airport led to the creation, initially, of seven terminal buildings surrounding a vast plaza with chapels, a see-through heating and cooling center, a reflective pool, and a fountain.
But passenger numbers soon exploded, thanks to the emergence of the wide-body jet. JFK’s annual passenger totals went from 3.5 million in 1956 to 11.5 million in 1962. By the end of the 1960s, it was the second-busiest airport in the country. Expansions, renovations, and alterations struggled to handle dramatic shifts in the industry (in particular, airline deregulation starting in the late ‘70s and tightened security after 9/11). Most of its facilities survived the century, but rarely with grace.
JFK carried 61.9 million passengers last year, and almost nothing remains of its midcentury origins. But the TWA Flight Center, the architectural star of 20th-century air travel, has survived and may finally thrive.
The new TWA Hotel opened late last month in the former terminal, its branding relying heavily on the glory years of the defunct airline, and by extension, its architecture. A faithful restoration of the building to its original 1962 appearance is anchored by two new, curved hotel towers behind it and a new conference center underneath. Its amenities and intensely curated visitor experience should give it a prosperous second life as an indulgence and curiosity for non-flying locals, and for travelers, as a less cattle-like option for killing time between flights. This new chapter for the building may now seem inevitable, but it was far from certain two decades ago.
Designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, who also designed St. Louis’s Gateway Arch and Washington’s Dulles Airport, the Flight Center’s concrete curves and swanky lounges still symbolize the glamour of flying in the 1960s, despite their almost immediate obsolescence. Other airlines at Idlewild had handsome, practical buildings, but TWA had an experience to sell.
It’s no coincidence that the most branding-savvy airline of the 1950s found its man in Saarinen. As explained in Kornel Ringli’s history, Designing TWA, the company wanted a building it could present as a consumer product in a competitive postwar market. The man who had already designed distinctive buildings for General Motors and IBM would make something that TWA could flaunt.
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“Instead of minimizing costs through constructional or material efficiency,” writes Ringli, “… another kind of economy has taken place, which aims to garner an increasingly scarce resource for the benefit of TWA: the public’s attention.” Saarinen’s design was immediately compared to a bird in flight by many observers. Critic Douglas Haskell of Architectural Forum compared the design in 1958 to the recently completed Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, with both demonstrating a “popular need … for more drama: a ‘good show,’ symbolism, even fairy tales.”
The terminal provided a workout, by the standard of today’s airports. There were an inconvenient amount of stairs between check-in, the lounges, and the “Flight Tubes,” which led to the gates. And once you were in those tubes, perhaps making a connection from another terminal in pre-AirTrain JFK, there were no moving walkways (planned but never installed).
TWA expected 7 million passengers to travel through its Idlewild terminal in its first five years, but ended up with 11 million. Even its signature Sunken Lounge was sacrificed in the airline’s later years for a generic customer-service area as it struggled to adjust. The terminal closed to passengers in 2001.
While the Flight Center had been landmarked by New York City in 1994—much to the chagrin of its struggling tenant—other terminals from the same era were demolished and replaced in the years that followed. The International Arrivals Building by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill was demolished in 2000; National Airlines’s Sundrome, by I. M. Pei, was torn down in 2011; PanAm’s WorldPort was gone by 2014.
A new terminal for JetBlue, designed around TWA’s footprint, opened in 2008 and connected to Saarinen’s tubes. The airport’s only hotel, a nondescript Ramada Plaza, closed the following year. After a request for proposals in 2007 failed to attract investors, the Port Authority undertook a $20 million landmark restoration before putting the Flight Center up for another RFP in 2012.
The original winner, hotelier Andre Balazs, did not proceed, so in 2014, the Port Authority selected MCR/Morse Development and brought in the firm Beyer Blinder Belle as the architect. (A rejected submission by the Trump Group proposed swapping the “WA” of the building’s “TWA” signs with “RUMP.”)
Multiple design firms took on elements of the renovation and expansion. The hotel, designed by Lubrano Ciavarra Architects, stages the Flight Center as the main attraction through black-tinted glass curtain walls that are just tall enough to block the view of the JetBlue terminal behind it. The hotel interiors, done by Stonehill Taylor, use hardwoods and brass details that reflect the vision of industrial-design icon Raymond Loewy, who shaped TWA’s corporate identity in the 1960s. The conference center, designed by INC, takes the same approach and includes historical TWA exhibits throughout the common spaces, which lead up to gigantic, hangar-like sliding doors. Outside, a midcentury-inspired landscape design is being installed by landscape architects Mathews Nielsen.
But the Flight Center is still the main attraction, and it functions more naturally as a hotel lobby than it ever did as an airport terminal. Hit songs from the ‘60s play gently through the speakers as employees—dressed in era-appropriate uniforms—accommodate guests and patrons. Filling the interior, an old newsstand now displays early ‘60s publications; a boutique sells stylish TWA swag for an audience that’ll also appreciate the Shinola, Warby Parker, and Phaidon commercial spaces nearby. Walls display David Klein’s colorful and expressive TWA travel posters.
What was the international check-in counter now registers hotel guests, while the old domestic check-in serves as a food hall. The original Sunken Lounge looks out onto a TWA-branded Lockheed Constellation plane, restored as a cocktail bar styled on the airline’s old lounges, where you’ll keep hearing those ‘60s hits.
Saarinen, who died one year before the building first opened, designed a fantasy of air travel that only grew further from reality over time. In 1990, Paul Goldberger wrote in the New York Times of Saarinen’s JFK contribution: “The kindest thing that could be done to this building, given how unfunctional it is today, would be to strip off all the additions and restore it as a museum of airport architecture.” That has basically come to pass. Nostalgia is the unapologetic theme at the TWA Hotel, and while it may be an insistent branding experience at times, it is also sure to provide delight to anyone passing through for an hour or a weekend.
Today, flights are cheaper, planes are safer, and most airports have crowd-pleasing places to eat and shop, yet we are more miserable than ever along almost every step of the trip. The Flight Center’s new role at the bigger, better, but uninspiring JFK isn’t just for business and consumption—it’s to provide an escape from the rest of the airport into something that was never quite real.
Eero Saarinen’s Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport reopened today, this time as the lobby of the TWA Hotel. Beyer Blinder Belle was tasked with preservation and kept the restored terminal true to its retro-futuristic roots. Stonehill Taylor created luxurious midcentury-modern guest rooms in the two newly-constructed wings that flank the terminal. But Lubrano Ciavarra, the design consultant and the design architect on record, was tasked with one of the best amenities timed to the hotel’s springtime opening: the rooftop pool, bar, and observation deck.
The observation deck sits atop one of the newly-constructed guest room wings. It boasts 10,000 square-feet of space and features an infinity pool along with a bar operated by Gerber Group. The 63-foot by 20-foot infinity-edge pool overlooks one of JFK’s largest runways, providing an endlessly-fascinating backdrop to the rooftop experience. The deck will be open year-round, with the pool’s ability to reach temperatures of 100 degrees serving as a pleasant complement to brisk New York City winters.
The pool is an amenity open to guests of the hotel, but anyone is free to make a reservation at the observation deck bar. Gerber Group, which operates icons of New York city nightlife and hospitality such as The Campbell at Grand Central Terminal, has opened with a summer-ready menu. Guests can try the Mile High Spritz (vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh lime juice and prosecco) or the Watermelon Collins (Aviation gin, watermelon and lemon juices, agave and club soda, and more options from the menu. The observation deck also operates a full rooftop kitchen.
Wherever your final destination is, there’s surely no more stylish way to unwind at JFK.
Garry Winogrand, the renowned photographer of American life, once observed: “Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.” Winogrand was expressing a view that could be ascribed to many architectural photographers, who are, at least in some cases, less interested in recording how buildings look than in producing images of how they could, or should, look. In so doing, they sometimes join forces with architects, who wish to disseminate idealized images of their work, and with publications that waver between wanting to present reality and wanting to offer visual delight.
The gap between documentation and manipulation is a central theme of “Image Building: How Photography Transforms Architecture,” an exhibition at the Parrish Art Museum—itself, the occupant of a much-photographed Herzog & de Meuron structure—in Southampton, New York, through June 17. It includes images that make no claims at realism—some by current art world darlings such as Thomas Ruff, who has said that other photographers “believe to have captured reality and I believe to have created a picture.” Therese Lichtenstein, the show’s curator, notes in her catalog essay that Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron once commissioned Ruff to photograph their buildings to see, she says, “what they would look like as art.”
Prominent among the photographs that make no attempt at “accurate” representation are works by Hiroshi Sugimoto, who renders famous buildings in blurry black and white. In a 2001 image, for example, he strives to see how far he can distort 30 Rockefeller Plaza without sacrificing its recognizability, a process he describes as “erosion-testing architecture for durability.”
For Sugimoto’s images to work, the subject buildings must already be iconic—a status they acquired largely through the efforts of his camera-wielding predecessors. The narrow-shouldered 30 Rock, for instance, was made instantly recognizable in the 1930’s by Samuel H. Gottscho. But even Gottscho, it turned out, was a manipulator who shot 30 Rock first with enough light to get the skyscraper’s outlines sharp, and again by night, to capture the glow from its windows, then combined the results in the darkroom.
“Documentary” photographers who didn’t resort to such extreme efforts still took pains to shoot modernist buildings in ways that made them look glamorous. As Interior Design Hall of Fame member Julius Shulman once stated: “Every architect I’ve ever worked for has become world-famous, because of the publicity they get.” Shulman himself is famous for shooting the Case Study Houses, the mid-century Southern California experiments in residential design, sponsored, tellingly, by a magazine.
Shulman’s postwar contemporary Balthazar Korab photographed tightly cropped sections of buildings, creating abstractions from the architecture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and other masters. Today, Korab’s closest counterpart may be Hélène Binet, whose work zeroes in on forms and textures, sometimes making it a challenge to determine what exactly is being depicted. (Luisa Lambri and Judith Turner, neither of whom is in the Parrish show, explore similar effects.)
One divergent strain in American architectural photography has been the dystopian vision. A case in point: Lewis Baltz’s 1970’s images of the tract houses in the West, which make the buildings seem, in Lichtenstein’s words, “outmoded even before their completion.” While photographs like these populate art journals, they are less likely to turn up on the pages of architecture or design magazines, where they may be seen as downers.
Architectural photographers must decide whether to include people in their images. Contemporary German conceptualist Candida Höfer believes photographing buildings with no one in them reveals a lot about human nature, just as an absent guest is often the subject of conversation at a party. The young Dutch photographer Iwan Baan tends to include people in his shots, but not always the people the architect or the client would have chosen. He gained prominence last decade documenting the construction of the CCTV headquarters in Beijing by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture with his images that placed migrant workers and their makeshift living quarters in the foreground.
For a century, photographers of architecture and interiors have been a mainstay of print media, including general interest publications. Gottscho’s work appeared regularly in Town & Country as well as the more specialized House & Garden, while Ezra Stoller published in Look, Harper’s Bazaar, and Playboy, along with the expected architecture journals. Design magazines play a hybrid role, not only entertaining but also educating readers, and thus tend to stay on the “representational” end of the spectrum (with “misrepresentation,” for art or profit, at the other end).
But, as a show like “Image Building” makes clear, there is no such thing as pure representation of buildings in photographs. The qualities of great interiors, especially, must be experienced first-hand. As Baltz said in a 1993 interview, “Architecture, real architecture, always defies reduction into two-dimensional representation. If not, it’s hardly architecture at all.”
From coast to coast, places of worship span nearly every architectural style, whether it’s a futuristic church in rural Indiana designed by one of Finland’s greatest architects (Eero Saarinen) or the recently restored Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Unity Temple in suburban Chicago. Mormon temples’ spires soar into the skyline and some Jewish temples are shapely in style, whether it’s a modern box or in perfect pitch with Feng Shui’s curvy chi. And no matter how many decades it’s been since their construction, a tiny steeple in the woods will never slip out of vogue.
St. Lawrence Catholic Parish (Fairhope, Alabama) With its all-wood interior, and pendant lighting, plus the octagon-shaped elevated skylight, morning sun pours into St. Lawrence Catholic Parish’s interior, reflecting off the stained-glass windows.
St. Bernard de Clairvaux (North Miami Beach, Florida) St. Bernard de Clairvaux is more widely known to tourists than parishioners (for Sunday-morning mass). During the 1920s, William Randolph Hearst bought the stone monastery cloister (dating back to 1133 AD in Spain) and shuttled it to New York City in parts. Not until the middle of last century, however, was it reinstalled in Florida.
St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic Church (Ankeny, Iowa) With one section of the limestone and weathering steel building jutting out into the prairie, this church is some serious eye candy. The sanctuary’s cathedral ceiling is stunning with honey-hued wood panels supported by steel beams, with pews positioned at a subtle V.
Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church (Helena, Montana) Resembling a modern farmhouse, Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church worked with an architect to create a cozy—but contemporary—vibe for Sunday services. Lots of right angles and clean lines gave the this Lutheran church a fresh look.
Gol Stave Church (Minot, North Dakota) Located in Scandinavian Heritage Park, which was established in the late ‘80s, structures reminiscent of what you’d find in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark are here. Gol Stave Church is one of those, a true replica of the church in Gol, Hallingdal, Norway.
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon (Bend) Modern in design, the Unitarian church in Bend—completed in 2016—was also designed to be sustainable and eco-friendly. It spans 19,000 square feet and has breathed new life into the church, including a boost in membership.