Photos by David Joseph, Prakash Patel, and John Bartelstone
Designed by some of the industry’s top firms, complete with fine dining restaurants, hip lounge areas, and innovative technology, JetBlue‘s new Terminal 5 (T5) at JFK Airport in New York is reducing travel anxiety and even giving travelers a reason to be a few hours early for their flights. "We took the approach forget we are in an airport and what has been done before," says Rick Blatstein, CEO of OTG Management, which handled the terminal’s F&B. "Let’s create something they have never seen." And the innovation paid off: it has the highest F&B revenue per enplaning passenger among U.S. airport terminals.
Behind the iconic Eero Saarinen-designed TWA terminal, T5’s modern, low profile and angular shape made of steel and glass complements and announces something new. Inside, "the scale is very different" than most terminals, explains Bill Hooper, principal in charge of the project for Gensler, the architect and overall interior designer of the $743 million project. No grand front hall here; instead the white-clad curving concourse’s width is sized a bit more generously back toward the ticket hall. And considering that most travelers spend less time in the departure hall (thanks to printing boarding passes at home, check-in kiosks, pre-security anxiety), 90 percent of retail and dining, and most of the creative design elements are found post security. "Once you go through, the main goal is to let your hair down, do some shopping, or walk around," says Richard Smyth, JetBlue’s vice president of redevelopment. "The whole process is different."
Terrazzo floors and natural light abound (thanks to glass curtain walls and skylights), while signature materials act as directionals (stainless steel at restrooms and glowing blue Panelite walls at transition points). The 26 gates feature custom blue carpeting, contemporary furniture with lounge-like and traditional seating, and scattered overhead lighting that lines up with travelers’ needs no matter how seating is arranged. "There was a lot of attention to how people dwell," Hooper says. "The customer-friendly moments are there."
Bustle and Flow
How people dwell was top priority for David Rockwell, who, working with Broadway director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, was brought in to help define the look and feel of one of the terminal’s focal points, the marketplace—a 55,000-square-foot area where the three concourses come together. Inspired by classic New York people-watching spots like the stoops of brownstones and the steps of the Met, Rockwell designed a four-foot-tall grandstand and two-foot-tall platform (for seating or performances and exhibitions); a 44-foot-wide ring of LCD monitors suspended by stainless steel cables hangs between them. The space is designed to subtly lead outbound travelers to the periphery of the space and inbound travelers straight between the grandstand and the platform. "It marries JetBlue qualities—usefulness with a sense of style—with New York-ness, the sense of celebration, stoops, the dance of public life as a New Yorker," Rockwell says. "The ring is a nod to the gracefulness of the building and acts as an organizing element, like the clock in an European city."
Rockwell also handled the brand strategy for the marketplace, which is home to the majority of the terminal’s eight full-service restaurants, eight quick-service eateries in the food court, seven grab and go markets, three coffee bars, six bars/lounges, and 25 retail stores, each featuring a glowing portal that can contain both brand imagery and signage.
Don’t Worry About a Thing
Dining here is a true blend of form and function, designed to not only better the airport dining experience, but also to reduce customer anxiety, both gate-side and in sit-down restaurants. "We have designed many airport terminals, and there is a certain common human behavior—people don’t want to be more than 250 feet away from their gate," Hooper says. Dubbed re:vive kiosks, wood and metal bar-like, saddle stool-fronted tables by the gates feature not only outlets for recharging, but also touch-screen monitors featuring a 60-item menu, which allow meals to be delivered directly to customers (an industry first by OTG). And there are also four re:vive bars offering drinks and take-away meals. "People want to be near their gate; they are afraid the plane may leave early, they may miss their call time, or the gate changes; so we really looked at how to address that. How can we change the experience of waiting for your plane and make it much more fulfilling," says Lionel Ohayon, founder of New York-based ICRAVE, tapped by OTG to design the re:vive kiosks and bars, and five of the restaurants. "From [the kiosks] all the way to the sit-down restaurants, we were conscientious of what the traveler wants and needs."
In the marketplace, three fine dining restaurants take cues from the streets of New York, opening up to sidewalk seating. "We wanted travelers to still be part of that exterior environment," Ohayon says. There’s modern Italian restaurant AeroNuova, where classic Italian black and white films play on flatscreen TVs. "All you ever get is the sports or the news in an airport. We wanted a moment when you step outside the reality of being in an airport," he says. The floors of AeroNuova curve up to form the wall of cave-like, Moorish-tile-clad tapas bar Piquillo, and then curves down to form the wall of sleek steakhouse 5ive Steak, which has a front bone-like screen that adds a cool design element, but still allows travelers to feel close to the gates.
Another source of anxiety? Eating alone. So in Deep Blue Sushi, decked out with modern furnishings, circular ceiling soffits, and a blue and white palette, Ohayon created two large circular bars for extra single seating, and there’s also a large bar in French bistro La Vie, which is "Pastis-like" with its white and yellow tiled walls, so that travelers don’t have to dine at a table alone. "You find that people tend to go to that terminal a lot earlier," he explains, mentioning that the success of the restaurants also lies in the fact that OTG brought in New York chefs to ensure great food as well as design. Adds Blatstein: "We are in New York, the capital restaurant of the world. Why not give our customers something great like that? Travel can be a little bit stressful. Why can’t you sit in a beautiful environment? It puts you in a different mood."
"We have done a lot of airport work, and they [OTG and Jet Blue] really pushed for a different kind of experience in airports," explains David Santos, design director for Fitch Design, which handled all the construction documents for OTG. "It’s totally out of the box. I am guessing and assuming others will copycat," adds Fitch Design’s managing director, Don Hasulak.