8/20/1910 – 9/1/1961
On August 20, 1910, Eero Saarinen was born to design memorable structures.
In a capitalist society such as ours, the choices people make when spending money contain a lot of information. As expenditures go, it’s hard to imagine a bigger one than a building and even when a corporation or government is the builder, the ultimate decision-makers are people.
Now imagine a world when an entire industry was wrapped in glamour and when charismatic (or reclusive) founders and executives wanted to make the non-utilitarian statement that they represented the future. At a minimum, you get Pucci-painted planes and dramatic terminal buildings.
It was a world waiting for an architect ready to, literally, break the box. Saarinen did.
Saarinen’s most iconic works stand (still) as an homage to the curve. There’s the parabolic Gateway Arch in St. Louis. There’s Washington-Dulles International Airport. And my personal favorite from my airport limo driving days, the TWA Flight Center at JFK .
Back in my driving days, a fare to Kennedy was considered a better run. Closer to the Island with more sneaky ways in and out than LaGuardia. In those early days of deregulation, the Pan Am and TWA terminals, monuments of an earlier era’s personal rivalries, stood kitty-corner across the airport’s central ring, as though the buildings themselves were combatants collecting tribute in the form of paying passengers.
The Pan Am terminal, with its round shape and iconic logo was cool. But the then-TWA Inernational terminal stood out, its arched halves suggesting flight itself. Of the two buildings, only TWA remains, repurposed into a hotel and still serving travellers.
My high school Spanish teacher, who as a college student worked in the International Arrivals Building as a bi-lingual traveler’s aid, complete with air hostess-like uniform, once told us a story about the TWA terminal. As aides, she and her colleagues were briefed on the airport’s history. TWA, it was said, sprung to Saarinen’s mind and hand after breakfast one morning, as he played with the empty haves of his grapefruit.
It’s as good an explanation as any.