A Visit To Terminal 5

This weekend was the 9th annual Open House New York, where scores of unusual sites across the city which are typically off-limits to the public throw their doors open for curious and nosy architecture fans who are too mild-mannered for trespassing.

So my sister and I took a trip out to JFK to check out the head house of the TWA Flight Center, which has been inaccessible since TWA merged with American Airlines in 2001.

Designed by Eero Saarinen, the landmarked Flight Center (more popularly known as Terminal 5) is an incredible example of Jetsons-era modernism. It was completed in 1962, a year after Saarinen’s death. (During his last visit, he proclaimed: “TWA is beginning to look marvelous. 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.”)

Fortunately, Terminal 5 is still with us (unlike its next-door neighbor, the former National Airlines “Sundrome” designed by I.M. Pei, which was demolished this month despite cries from preservationists). It features a gorgeous, flowing interior, reminding me of the Enterprise, Esquivel!, and great atomic-era hollowware.

With its space-age contours and precise attention to detail, today’s visit to Terminal 5 allowed us to enjoy a brief simulacrum of what jet travel was apparently like long before my time. How glorious to pilot my car to the airport, park swiftly, cross the street and enter this majestic example of modernist architecture! No lines, no baggage, no security, no pat-downs that only stop when the TSA agent “meets resistance.”

I would describe the general mood of the room as palpably giddy. Above, Danielle sketches Terminal 5’s ridiculously aerodynamic curves.

Terminal 5 was supposed to be open to the public for a brief site-specific art exhibition in the fall of 2004. Sadly, the Port Authority cancelled the show on opening night due to security concerns. Below, Jenny Holzer’s contribution:

When Steve Jobs introduced the original iPod in 2001, he didn’t show the audience the front at first — he began by presenting the gleaming, shimmering rear side, gloating that it was more attractive than the front of other available MP3 players. I can’t help but feel the same way about Terminal 5’s departures board:

I’m looking forward to Open House New York next year! Maybe I’ll finally be able to tour the automated vacuum garbage system on Roosevelt Island.

See? Palpably giddy.