Back to the Future

Architecture, Street
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TWA Terminal

TWA Terminal  at JFK

“The best things in life are free” goes the old adage and for the rest there’s MasterCard. That’s how last Sunday went down when we were escorted to the old TWA Terminal at JFK in an old friend’s 1964 Ford Falcon station wagon.  For the price of a couple gallons of gasoline and short term parking, we were able to experience an architectural landmark in all its 1960s sublime glory. Untouched, except for a few minor 80s alterations, the entire structure was open to the public last weekend during Open House New York. A once in a lifetime visit that effectively allowed the spectator to time travel back to a period of aesthetics, that ultimately, we can no longer arrive at.

TWA Terminal
Catch Me If You Can

Slightly obscure to the masses and recognizable to some from Spielberg’s movie Catch Me If You Can, the TWA Terminal designed in 1962 by Eero Saarinen, is by any architect’s list, one of the seven wonders of New York City.

It closed in 2001 upon the bankruptcy of the Trans World Airline – “another one bites the dust.”  The terminal structurally articulates the dynamics of aeronautic transport and its parallel relationship to the space age at its critical launch point back in 1962.  In its current state, untouched and frozen from its initial closure, it remains an architectural icon from a period where American expansion and technological progress seemed endless.

TWA Terminal
Photo: Mark Boswell

Photographers of all sorts armed to the teeth in iPhones, cameras and tri-pods waltzed into this temporary autonomous zone of stylistic exuberance. Models decked out in 60s glam straight out of National Geographic stormed this public photo studio. It was shutterbug mania.

Everything was intact and chillingly marinated in the vinegar of time. Mysterious doorways organically shaped liked Star Trek portals, led visitors into what were once luxurious VIP cocktail lounges. The carpet, now curled and unglued from the floor like soured milk, eerily entangled the visitor in a time warp. There were heat blasted touch-tone phones with multiple line buttons containing handwritten signage laid out on an old info desk.

More than revisiting the film set of Catch Me If You Can, one had the feeling of entering Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris – the TWA Terminal of today haunts you. The worst thing, and its similar to the despair of Detroit, is that capitalism can create something so perfectly elegant and monumental that eventually it will have to destroy it to survive. So many iconic architectural achievements in this country become obsolete due to the avaricious shortsightedness of American capitalism.

Photos: Carrie Weld

Always expanding and chewing up everything in its path. Look no further than Penn Station, at once a cathedral of railway brilliance, and now an overgrown bus station from 1980 brimming with junk food stands and People magazine consumers. Bring in the new at the expense of the old. It’s a sad old song.

JetBlue purchased the Terminal a few years back and intended to make it fully operational, but in the end, it was just too small to handle today’s insanely heavy air traffic and extreme security measures. André Balazs, and his line of über cool retro-modern Standard Hotels, recently purchased the gem, and intends to turn it into a nouveau jet age restaurant with a hotel connected to the perimeters of this futuristic structure. The plans of the project were presented on large printed layouts near the entrance of the Terminal. The inherent intelligence in Balazs’ projects that allows these architectural masterpieces to mostly remain as they were is a lesson to be learned across this once mighty land. As Yogi Berra so aptly stated “The Future is not what it used to be.”


TWA Terminal

 Mark Boswell is an experimental media artist and writer living in Brooklyn. He studied Dada, Surrealism, and film theory in Switzerland, France, Germany and the Florida Space Coast. His films have screened internationally in film festivals, museums, biennials, and even shoe stores. He is currently at work on his second feature film “Nova Conspiracy.” In 2004 he was awarded the International Media Art Prize for his film “The End of Copenhagen” by the ZKM Museum in Karlsruhe, Germany.

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