November 2017
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The TWA Terminal Saga Continues!

twa saarinen

Background: For over a year, The Municipal Art Society has been pressing for a better plan for Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center (1956-62), now Terminal A, a New York City landmark and icon of modern design. As part of the expansion of JFK Airport, the Port Authority wants to demolish portions of the landmark and construct a huge new U-shaped terminal around its “airside,” blocking the view of the tarmac that was Saarinen’s greatest inspiration and achievement. Hundreds of architects, design professionals, and enthusiasts of modern design have joined civic organizations in protesting these plans. During the summer of 2001 the Society hosted a press conference featuring notable architects Philip Johnson, Robert A.M. Stern, and Peter Samton, all of whom emphatically and enthusiastically support the full preservation of this very unique and significant Modernist masterpiece.

Despite the overwhelming criticism of its plans, the Port Authority continues to claim that the building has outlived its effectiveness as an airline terminal and the only way to address the airport’s needs is by placing a hulking semi-circular structure behind it. We agree that the Terminal may not be appropriate for a large airline such as United, however we are not satisfied with PA’s investigation of “feasible and prudent” alternatives to demolishing portions of the landmark. And we continue to maintain that converting it to a non-aviation use such as a conference center is a missed opportunity that will make the structure vulnerable to the economic forces of the travel and real estate industries. The best way to preserve a landmark so specifically designed for one function is to preserve that function.

The Issue of Alternatives: To prove its point, MAS spent last fall coming up with its own alternatives to the PA’s flawed plan. We consulted with a noted architect and airport planner and arrived at four different concept plans, each of which preserves all the original components of the building and provides PA with the number of gates needed to make the terminal financially viable. Our concepts suggest uses such as an international arrivals hall, ground transportation center, or special terminal for business class travelers. They preserve the view of the tarmac from inside the TWA Terminal by placing new construction off to the side of the building. While we did not offer fully developed alternative plans, we suggested ways to treat the landmark more sensitively and preserve its aviation-related purpose.

As part of its review of the project, the Federal Aviation Administration required the PA to evaluate our concepts as well as its own earlier schemes to see if there are viable ways to meet its goals without so significantly altering the landmark building. In response, the PA has repeated its claim that none of the alternatives – ours or its own – fulfill the “program” for the new terminal well enough to pass muster. We disagree.

Our Current Effort: We believe that if further developed into actual schemes, one of our four concepts could lead to a feasible and prudent alternative. So we’re at it again – during the first week of October we are hosting a small group of architects, engineers, airport planners and traffic specialists to look more closely at our ideas and take them to the next level of detail. With the help of these experts, we plan to investigate more closely whether or not the PA can have the new gate numbers and services it needs without demolishing portions of Saarinen’s building, and without surrounding an architectural treasure with an overpowering new structure.

What you can do to help: We still need your participation! Please send new letters to the FAA asking them to keep investigating possible alternatives to the PA’s current plan. Our information will reach them shortly, but we don’t want them to stop working toward a better solution. Because we believe such a solution exists.