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Eero Saarinen's TWA Flight Center revived for three short hours

The swinging ’60s wouldn’t have been half as groovy without Eero Saarinen’s spectacular TWA Flight Center at JFK airport. Completed in 1962, the terminal became an icon of modern architecture as well as the glamorous “jet set” experience. With its spaceship-like exterior and strangely curved staircases and walls, the terminal was meant to capture the drama and excitement of flight itself. Though he died shortly before it was opened to the public, the architect is said to have remarked, rather prophetically, “if anything happened, and they had to stop work right now and just leave it in this state, I think it would make a beautiful ruin, like the Baths of Caracalla.”

Saarinen’s terminal was declared a landmark in 1994, but closed abruptly  after 9/11 due to concerns over the lack of space for new security equipment and procedures. There’s not enough room in front of the terminal for curbside check-in, for example, and the tubular bridges can’t accommodate wheelchairs.

The fate of the building is still unresolved, but in all likelihood it will never resume its former function (rumor has it that JFK is considering proposals for hotels, restaurants and club areas for the space, which would render it a kind of pre-flight relaxation destination). But for three hours last weekend, local architecture organization, Open House New York, successfully reopened the old TWA Flight Center to the public, inviting people to remember its glory days while introducing the structure to a generation that never experienced it firsthand. With any luck, the event will become a regular feature of “Archtober,” NYC’s month-long architecture celebration. And surely we can squeeze a few more hours out of JFK—three seems kind of stingy.

For more photos of the terminal, check out this set taken by a Sundance Channel staffer: