MCR Development – TWA Hotel
MCR Development takes inspiration from the golden age of aviation
as it converts the JFK Airport TWA Flight Center into a modern hotel.
By Tim O’Connor
When the TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport in New York opened in 1962, it was a modern and forward-thinking design. With its Jetsons-style Googie architecture and sunken lounge, the Eero Saarinen-designed building became an icon of mid-century aviation and was eventually granted landmark designation by the city and state. So there was a sense of loss when the terminal closed in 2001 following the end of Trans World Airlines.
A portion of the flight center was used to expand JetBlue’s terminal at the airport, but the signature gull-wing building remained unoccupied for years as local officials tried to find a new use that would honor the structure’s history. In 2015, MCR Development announced it would convert the TWA Flight Center into a lobby and retail space for a new hotel that would rise between the historic building and JetBlue terminal.
The TWA Hotel will embrace the flight center’s style to invoke the golden days of aviation, when flying was still an event and passengers had a sense of wonder about the whole experience. “When people talk about this building and reference this building you can see people’s eyes light up,” says Jason Garone, vice president of construction for MCR. “It’s an architectural marvel.”
Foundation work for the hotel began in February 2017 and the project is on pace for completion in first-quarter 2019. Once it opens, the TWA Hotel will have 512 guest rooms spread out over two buildings. A 50,000-square-foot conference center with 40 meeting rooms and a 10,000-square-foot ballroom will give the hotel the ability to host small and large events. “There’s a lot of people around here we think will come out to have their wedding or bar mitzvah,” Garone says. “We think there’s a huge market for that out there.”
The project is designed it to appeal to aviation enthusiasts. There will be a 10,000-square-foot public observation deck, TWA museum and a lounge where guests can enjoy a cocktail. MCR plans to build a tarmac for a 1956 Lockheed Constellation, a propeller-driven passenger transport plane. Kids can explore the cockpit to learn about aviation history while parents can have a cocktail in the lounge.
At 200,000 square feet, the hotel’s lobby will be the largest in the world, Garone claims, filled with restaurants, bars and shops. The hotel itself will have seven floors for each building and its façade will follow the contours of the adjacent road for JetBlue arrivals and departures. A triple-glazed Igu curtain wall will block noise from nearby takeoffs and landings, allowing guests to sleep in peace. The two hotel buildings will rise behind the TWA Flight Center like wings reflecting the former terminal’s symmetry.
The project will be the first hotel on airport property. Garone believes it will appeal to travelers from New York and New Jersey who have early morning flights and would prefer to stay in a room rather than driving into the city during the middle of the night. “I think this will be very successful in the surrounding tri-state area,” he says.
Those guests will be treated to a traveling experience unlike any other. Hotel employees dressed in TWA uniforms with pillbox hats will greet guests as soon as they arrive, and direct them to either baggage storage or ushering them toward the check-in counter, which will feature the original Solari board passengers used to find flight information. “The experience of checking in will be very similar, as if you were flying there back in the day,” Garone says.
From there, guests will access the hotel through the two flight tubes that used to guide passengers to their airplanes. The entire experience will be authentic to what it was like to fly during the middle of the 20th century, before lengthy security checks and massive crowds became the norm. “Flying used to be exciting; now it doesn’t seem as glamorous,” Garone says. “It will bring back that romantic time of flying.”
Blending New and Old
The blending of a classic aviation experience with modern amenities is not limited to the guest experience. Although the flight center will retain its class style, MCR is integrating new systems and materials into the project.
The roof of the north hotel building will house a combined heat and power plant that will supply electricity and regulate temperature for the entire hotel. The CHP plant will connect to a natural gas source, allowing the building to operate on a separate power source from the airport and reduce its energy costs. “It just made sense for us to build our own power plant,” Garone notes. As of early December, the CHP plant was being assembled into containers. Installation was set for March and it is expected to go into operation next fall.
Taken alone, the CHP plant, the large conference building, rehab of a historic building or ground-up construction of a new hotel is nothing new. However, Garone believes the combination of those features make the TWA Hotel one of the most exciting projects going on in the entire industry. “There’s just so many different elements for this project which makes it interesting for us construction folk,” he says. “It’s one of a kind.”
The project is being built by Turner Construction, which has extensive experience at JFK, including the building of the JetBlue terminal. “They were very familiar with the site, they were very familiar with the ins and outs of the Port Authority [of New York and New Jersey] team,” Garone says. “So it just made sense to bring them on and use them as the construction manager for the project. We have a really fantastic team from Turner on this project. They’ve been great partners in pushing this forward with us.”
Turner’s familiarity with the airport and its stakeholders came in handy as MCR designed the project. Because the TWA Flight Center is a historic building, there are limitations in how its design can be altered and how new elements must blend with the existing structure. In designing the hotel structure, MCR was careful not to impose upon the historic terminal. For example, the glass in the flight center has a green tint, so the glass in the hotel will have a grey tint so that the original building would retain its identity.
MCR worked with the port authority’s redevelopment advisory committee to ensure its changes would not harm the architectural integrity of the flight center. “We had to go through a design process with them where you had to show them the design and get their input,” Garone says. “People are passionate about this building and you have to be sympathetic to it.”
Rehabbing a building – particularly a historic one – is different from the ground-up construction process Garone is more accustomed to. A new building is a blank canvas, while working with a existing structure requires finding a balance between its architectural elements and the requirements of the new businesses that will operate inside. “You can’t just go full steam ahead,” he says. “You have to take a step back and look at everything.”