The TWA Flight Center at JFK has always been an impressive piece of aviation history. From its opening in 1962, the terminal’s breathtaking architectural design and bustling international hub for TWA heralded the beginning of the jet age. Millions of travelers passed through this building over the past 61 years. It is now a protected historic landmark and is still frequently visited by passengers and guests alike.
So, it is no wonder that airport model builder Brian Keene of Orlando, Florida, decided to tackle this unique part of history by building a 1:400 scale diorama of the TWA Flight Center as it appeared in the seventies. Measuring an area of 20 square feet, Brian spent over 200 hours researching, designing, and constructing the diorama, focusing on detail and realism down to the grease marks on the ramp!
While his display was featured at several airliner shows to much acclaim, Brian had bigger plans. What if this display became part of the actual TWA Terminal, now serving as the lobby of the TWA Hotel? In June 2023, he connected with MCR Development’s CEO, Tyler Morse. He sent a few photos of his work to Tyler, and they both agreed that it needed to be a prominent feature at the Hotel.
Their first challenge was deciding what type of display case would be needed. Unlike a museum, the TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport is open 24/7 and hosts thousands of guests and visitors. It needed to be durable and secure. They also wanted the case to embody the spirit of the 1970s and complement the design of the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen.
Brian envisioned a curved base with an oversized deck. The height was important, as he wanted young children to see the miniature scene without obstructions. It would be capped with a square of tempered glass. Finally, it would include graphics to match the other TWA Hotel branding.
In August 2023, Brian and his son, Ryan, drove the diorama parts from Orlando. All the while, the display case itself was en route to JFK for the final installation. It took about 8 hours for every item on the display to be glued down and five men to lift the 500lb. glass cap and place it on top.
It now proudly sits at the very center of the terminal, overlooking the famous red sunken lounge area, allowing all generations to visualize what once was the TWA Flight Center. “It was a very rewarding experience,” said Keene. I am honored to have contributed a permanent piece of artwork to a historic site that will hopefully spark the memories of those who saw the original complex and inspire the next generation of aviators.