Another Eero Saarinen Masterpiece Gets New Life

The Bell Works building and the TWA Flight Center couldn’t be more different. Bell is full of straight lines meeting at sharp angles. The Flight Center is full of free-flowing curves that melt into one another.

But the mammoth suburban New Jersey office building and the Queens airport terminal have two important things in common, their creator Eero Saarinen and his now iconic high design sensibility, and a massive restoration planned for each.

This icon of TWA’s heyday will soon be restored to glory by MCR Development LLC, the seventh largest hotel owner-operator in the US. MCR and JetBlue Airlines are planning a $265 million renovation of the terminal along with a pair of six-story hotels on the site.

In New Jersey Somerset Development is redeveloping the historic Bell Labs building into Bell Works, a reimagining of the space as a center for work, play and creativity.

Ralph Zucker, President of Somerset Development, recently visited the TWA Flight Center and called it, “one of the most significant Saarinen buildings to be brought back to life.”.

“I was in awe and inspired by the breadth of MCR’s vision,” Zucker said. “They are genuine preservationists who fought a long battle to preserve Saarinen’s work.”

Like a great bird landing among the airplanes at John F. Kennedy Airport Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center is an architectural marvel, its two massive wings a reminder of days past. The once-bustling center at terminal five at JFK airport was completed in 1962, one year after architectural giant Saarinen’s death, and was in operation until 2001, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

There isn’t a straight line in the place, with the style straddling Futurism and Fantastic Architecture. Curved walls seamlessly become the floor, which is covered in bright red carpet that pops against the bright white interior.

The historic terminal will remain intact, but will be renovated. The proposed hotel will have 505 rooms, 40,000 square feet of event space, restaurants and bars, as well as an aviation museum. The entire project is slated to be completed by 2018.

Listening to MCR’s managing partner in charge of the TWA Flight Center’s renovation, Zucker said he felt like he was listening to himself casting a vision for his own Saarinen building.

“He sees people, he sees a nightclub as he walks through the terminal,” Zucker said. “He sees a premiere destination.”

Zucker too has plans to make his building (with its scale not too far off from a small commercial airport) into a premiere destination. Though the focus of his redevelopment will be less about launching people into their travels, and more about attracting innovators to land in New Jersey.

The Bell Works redevelopment is transforming the dormant giant company headquarters into a space for startups and entrepreneurs working in the Garden State, breaking down the barriers found in most closed office environments, giving people the space to interact, thrive, and innovate.

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