The Modernist Elegance of the Abandoned TWA Flight Center

A few exceptions aside, airports tend to be architecturally depressing places, where function dominates form. However, flying out of New York used to be much more aesthetically pleasing, or at least more futuristic. For the 2012 Open House New York, which offered access to many places in the five boroughs that are usually closed to the public, I visited the now-abandoned TWA Flight Center at the Jet Blue terminal of JFK.

The terminal opened in 1962 and was designed by Eero Saarinen, who had a thing for curves, as shown in his other work including the Arch in St. Louis and the still-in-use Dulles Airport in Washington, DC. Saarinen unfortunately died a year before the TWA Flight Center opened and never got to see its completion. This particular design was meant to look like a giant bird perched on the airfield, although it reminded me more of a spaceship. Its use ended when TWA’s finances took a dive and the company was bought by American Airlines, the flight center closing in October of 2001. It is now encircled by the new Jet Blue terminal, and is planned to be incorporated somehow. Luckily it is on the National Register of Historic places so it is likely to be preserved at least in some authentic form.

The entire terminal wasn’t open, just the sections that have been restored, but exploring those was incredible and worth the rather long trip by train to see it. The urban explorers were there en masse, and it was great to see such a crowd out appreciating modernist architecture. It’s through public interest that buildings like this can survive and stay true to their original designs. I took an overkill of photos, but who knows when else I will be able to get inside. So enjoy some highlights below!

Planes were originally accessed by these stunning tunnels.

Here is the old duty free shop, with old cigarette ads.

Here are the old shoeshine stands.

Once you could wait for your flight in these glamorous seats.

On the second level are the remains of a lounge with an empty fountain and circles of seats looking out to the tarmac.

I think David Lynch would like the sort of seedy “secret” swanky bar.

If you get a chance to go to the TWA Flight Center, don’t miss it, it’s one of the most beautiful buildings in New York and definitely the most amazing airport I have ever seen. If only my next flight was departing from this complex of roaming curves and mid-century portals.

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3 thoughts on “The Modernist Elegance of the Abandoned TWA Flight Center

  1. I’ve wondered what this building looks like inside for twenty years. Always fantasizing about the interiors. This is awesome. Great photos. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Allie says:

    Thanks Jeff! It’s really amazing. I’m not sure if they’ll do another Open House there, but if they do, definitely go see it!

  3. Thank you for sharing! Looks gorgeous.

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