Penny Tiles Preserve Past and Present at the TWA Hotel
Both an homage to and preservation of Eero Saarinen’s iconic JFK TWA terminal building, the TWA Hotel has been in operation since May of 2019.
Eero Saarinen’s TWA terminal. Original photo at top from @Ezra Stoller. Center and above, the newly renovated TWA Hotel opened in 2019.
The restoration aspect of the project was formidable. Beyer Blinder Belle, an eclectic practice focused on using architecture to empower citizenry and inform regional identities, was tasked with replacing the skylights, restoring the curtain wall, reconstructing the original entrances, repairing and re-coating the concrete roof, and “painstakingly restoring the penny tile finishes on the floors, walls, soffits and fascias with over 15 million units of 1/2 inch diameter ceramic mosaic tile custom-made for the project.”
Eero Saarinen’s original 1/2″ ceramic penny tile
The humble penny tile is thus an under-sung workhorse of the original building and the renovation. Early images give some sense of the scale of this surface coating.
Saarinen (and consulting designers Warren Platner, Charles Eames, and Raymond Loewy) selected the material for its texture, uniformity, stark appearance, and striking contrast with the vibrant fabric in Saarinen’s signature chili pepper red.
A restored Lockheed Constellation airplane turned cocktail lounge preserves the original color scheme.
The true innovation here is the way Saarinen used the tiny tiles as a uniform surface rather than just flooring, insinuating them into every square inch of this serpintining structure.
The architects of the additions took this to heart. The penny tile motif extends to the floors of the guest rooms and the hotel’s infinity pool.
A penny tile rug in a guestroom at the TWA Hotel
So Many Pennies. The infinity pool looks out onto the tarmacs at JFK.
And the proliferation of pennies extends to the satellite TWA Lounge located on the 86th. floor of One World Trade Center, with custom recreations of Saarinen’s original tiles from Ann Sacks.