Some buildings are so cinematic they appear tailor-made for the screen, their unique lines and dramatic features seemingly constructed for the sole purpose of illuminating a scene and delighting audiences far and wide. The Trans World Airlines Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, which today operates as the TWA Hotel, is one such structure. A monument to midcentury architecture, as Mr. Modernism George Smart noted in a 2019 episode of his popular podcast USModernist Radio, the terminal literally has “no bad angles” and filmmakers have certainly taken advantage of that fact, featuring it in numerous productions over the years.
The dazzling property is the work of Eero Saarinen and Associates. Headed up by prominent Finnish-born architect/furniture designer Eero Saarinen, the Michigan-based firm was also responsible for St. Louis, Missouri’s famed Gateway Arch and Washington Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.
Boasting a complex concrete shell roof, the looming terminal was constructed from 1959 to 1962. Sadly, Eero passed away while undergoing brain surgery in 1961, a year before its completion. Though he never got to see the finished work, it remains one of his finest legacies, not to mention one of the most celebrated mid-century structures ever erected.
With its “expressive wing-like forms and swooping, curvilinear lines,” the National Park Service deems the daring design a “compelling visual metaphor for the modern airport terminal.” The Jetsons-esque property is indeed a feast for the eyes, its butterflied roofline, which rises 75 above the street below, conjuring images of flight at every glance.