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  • Daphne Chen Matthews

“Hello? TWA here. We’d like to talk to you about Reinvention…”

This past weekend when it was nice and sunny in New York, some parks were so crowded that one of them had to draw circles in the grass to remind people of social distancing. I headed in a direction that was certain to be empty—The TWA Hotel at JFK Airport Terminal 6. When I called in the morning, the receptionist told me, “The building is open, but the amenities are not. You can walk around and see the exhibits.” I asked if there were many visitors, and she replied "a few." I did not even know there were exhibits, so I was curious. Adding to the excitement was my feeling of espionage—I was headed to an international airport without luggage, destination, or a valid ticket.   


Like most people with a fascination of things “retro” (I know some of your kids have confiscated your clothes from high school and figured out how to use your Discman), I loved the mid-century modernism of the building. As a kid I wanted to live like the Jetsons. I wanted to go to the Space Needle, and I was intrigued by the Gateway Arch. Eero Saarinen, who designed the St. Louis landmark, was also the architect commissioned to design the terminal. 


The TWA Flight Center was built in 1962, during one of the most optimistic periods of our time. In 1994, it was declared a New York City Landmark, and sat closed from 2001-2005 (when TWA went bankrupt until the construction of JetBlue’s Terminal 5). In 2015, they decided to convert the TWA Flight Center into TWA Hotel, which opened in May 2019.[1]


What interests me most is that this once abandoned building has been reinvented into a day trip, not unlike a spa or the beach. The hotel includes a fitness center, a Jean-Georges restaurant, and a reading room. “Connie” is an airplane-turned-cocktail bar. Last winter, they even built an ice rink on the tarmac. I read that when the hotel is in full operation, it is so popular that social media influencers are denied their requests for freebies. 


These days, a lot of people speak about reinvention. Some use the term “the new normal,” which invokes feelings of a lack of creativity and acceptance of the mundane. Companies contemplate their real estate needs, and there is talk about abandoning offices altogether. People consider career changes, shrugging off decades of experience to pursue something new. The new normal is being presented as an abandonment of the life we knew before March 2020. 


Reinvention does not mean the complete destruction of what we knew for something seemingly newer and faster and sleeker. It is about taking the best parts of the past and incorporating them into a new plan. The same red sunken lounge from 1962? Why not! A heated pool where you can watch airplanes? Different...but a great idea! Managers who used to shun working from home now see its perks, but there are certainly benefits of going into a designated office space to work. Career changers realize their skills are transferable into other industries, and they do not need to stick to the same job because they believe that is the only thing they can do. Reinvention is an important aspect of business development. It is also an integral part to personal growth.


Now if you will please excuse me, I must catch Flight 2020. It is boarding now, and there are empty seats if you want to join.


[1] https://ny.curbed.com/2019/5/15/18624127/twa-hotel-new-york-jfk-airport-midcentury-modern-design


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