You cannot appreciate a work of art when under stress or in a rush, and in an airport you are both. Can you draw a picture of the last terminal you flew out of? But there is one, officially dedicated 60 years ago, whose design is so strong and bold as to startle even the most agitated passenger. This is Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport, the only airline terminal—past or present—to be universally acknowledged as a masterwork.
It takes the form of a mighty predatory bird, wings upraised and talons extended as if to seize its prey—the departing passenger. The talons are actually buttresses and, like the roof they carry, are of smoothly curving concrete. Even before air travelers stepped beneath its projecting canopy, they had the sensation of graceful fluid motion, a sensation that continued uninterrupted through the curvilinear hall—where the chili-pepper-red carpets of the interior offered a lively contrast with the monochrome hue of the exterior—right up to the moment they stepped into their waiting aircraft at its far end.