Monday, November 20, 2006

Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal

"If you think like an architect, you're going to love it. If you think like a passenger, you're going to hate it," says William DeCota, aviation director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It's Eero Saarinen's 1962 TWA terminal at New York's Kennedy Airport. It closed in 2001 because it was too small to accomodate today's crowds, baggage, security systems, and other modern necessities. It's empty now. See a slideshow of the building on the New York Times website.

When I've rolled across the moving walkway on the skyway to the JetBlue terminal, I've gawked at the Saarinen design. It's breathtaking. There simply isn't anything like it in a New Yorker's daily life. The thing it reminds me of most is Santiago Calatrava's airport terminal-like addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. Both have white ovoid spaces that awe us with their peculiar combination of organic shapes and sterile materials.

I haven't been inside the TWA terminal, so I've focused on what I can see outside. The first time I saw it I couldn't believe it was really there -- it looks so out of place among the warehouse/big box retail shapes of most of the airport terminals now, even the high glass curtains of the neighboring JetBlue terminal. I was also struck by how small it is. Its roof comes low in the front, almost seeming to touch down so one could climb up. People often describe the shape as "swooping." Everything about this building evokes flight, say others.

But it has aged past its utility. What do you do with a building like this?

William DeCota imagines a botanical garden outside the building with a museum inside. Or maybe a sculpture garden outside. "It isn't just important to save the old Saarinen terminal and its phenomenal architecture. It's important to find a thriving use. How can you continue to make this a centerpiece?" DeCota told the Times.

The Municipal Art Society wanted the terminal to continue functioning as such and thought the Port Authority's method of issuing a call for development ideas wouldn't work. JetBlue which is building a new terminal adjacent to the Saarinen building is planning on installing two ticket kiosks in the old TWA terminal for passengers who want to walk through it. And why not? Couldn't it finction as a welcome hall for JetBlue? With a bar and a couple restaurants? Maybe a mini museum like the Amsterdam airport's Rijksmuseum annex?

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