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TWA Hotel – new life to iconic building

By Ole Bergstein, founder, Copenhagen Design Merchants

On my recent trip in the US, I could not resist visiting the impressing TWA Hotel at the JFK Airport in New York. It is currently one of the most talked about hotels in the world.

I had read about this hotel which opened in May this year, in multiple hospitality and design magazines, and based on the mere excitement from these, it was a must-see for me.

The concept is based on the TWA Flight Center that opened in 1962 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (then called Idlewild Airport), when the jet age was just beginning. The Eero Saarinen–designed building wasn’t completed until after the architect’s death in 1961, but it remains one of his most well-known projects.

First impression of TWA Hotel

The terminal closed in 2001—along with the iconic airline company TWA (Trans World Airlines)—because it could no longer support the size of modern airplanes.

Nearly two decades later, the once abandoned landmark building reopened on May 2019 as the TWA Hotel, JFK’s first on-airport hotel.

Helpful staff in original uniforms

When entering the hotel, you pass a beautiful old convertible placed smack in the middle of the entrance, and the moment you pass through the glass doors to the huge lobby, you are welcomed by staff wearing copies of original TWA uniforms. They work at the information desk which has a fully functional old-school departures board, saying “flip-flap” when it updates flight information. The staff where happy (and proud) to tell me details about the whole building complex and even striking a photo-opportunity pose, as if we were back in the early sixties. Thank you, girls!

In 1994, the terminal was declared a city landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, which prevented its demolition. In 2005, the National Park Service listed it on the National Register of Historic Places. In December 2016 a new project to turn the building into a hotel began construction, and here in May 2019 it opened its doors to the public.

Main lobby of the TWA Hotel

It is probably one of the most perfectionist and detailed theme hotels currently on the market, paying homage to the iconic TWA airline company, that was one of the most recognisable and storied names in aviation throughout its 71-year history. From its humble beginnings as a mail carrier, the airline flourished under billionaire Howard Hughes.

TWA was always on the cutting edge, flying new aircraft to exotic international destinations, and being the airline that was also cutting edge with uniforms designed by Valentino, Ralph Lauren and other notabilities in fashion. After poor management in the 1980s, the airline limped through the 1990s until being sold in 2001.

The original TWA uniforms are on display in the main building, as with original phone booths, a shoe polish stand, and old original magazines form the sixties on display.

On the tarmac just behind the terminal is placed a Lockheed Constellation L-1649A propeller airplane, that has been turned into a bar. I was told, that you have to book your seat very well in advance if you want to sip a cocktail inside this plane.

Constellation L-1649A propeller airplane

On both sides of the original terminal building, there has been build 2 wings with a total of 512 rooms, containing furniture originally designed by Eero Saarinen.

The TWA Hotel follows Eero Saarinen’s original plans’ specifications, using the same materials where possible. It also features more than 2,000 artefacts mostly donated by former TWA employees and curated by the New-York Historical Society.

A lot of the original materials, as for instance terrazzo tiles, are kept, and was basically just cleaned during the build-up. It is a wonderful experience to experience how design can be timeless which is just as we like it here at Copenhagen Design Merchants.

"flipflipflipflip" says the information board.


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