In our series Architectural means we’re trying to find answers to the questions: Which architectural means do we have to create specific atmospheres that can elicit specific emotions? In this post we’ll talk about the aspect Form as one of the architectural mean we have to create specific architectural atmospheres.


In the Trans World Airlines Terminal of the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York designed by Eero Saarinen the streams of people are directed by the organic forms, or you could say the opposite, the streams shape the building. The building’s undulating shape was meant to evoke the excitement of high speed flight. Sylvia Hart Wright wrote in her ‘Sourcebook of Contemporary North American Architecture: From Postwar to Postmodern’ about Saarinen’s design: “This is surely one of the world’s most dramatic airline terminals. Few straight lines here: approached head on, its curving contours uncannily suggest a bird in flight. Inside, the main lobby’s soaring, swooping walls, its carefully modeled staircases, seating areas, and many other features are a blend of graceful sculptural forms selected ‘to suggest the excitement of the trip.’ (1)

Eero Saarinen himself says about his design: ‘…a building in which the architecture itself would express the drama and specialness and excitement of travel… a place of movement and transition… The shapes were deliberately chosen in order to emphasize an upward-soaring quality of line. We wanted an uplift.’ (2) The building and all its spaces and elements make up a total environment where every detail belongs to the same family of forms. This is one instance of Saarinen’s idea of the necessity of extending architecture to the smallest detail of the design. Thus, every object should relate to its neighbouring objects. Even the terminal’s smallest interior details, lounges, chairs, signs, and telephone booths were designed to harmonize with the curving shaped building. To quote Saarinen: “All the curves, all the spaces and elements right down to the shape of the signs, display boards, railings and check-in desks were to be of a matching nature. We wanted passengers passing through the building to experience a fully-designed environment, in which each part arises from another and everything belongs to the same formal world.” (3)
The whole building with all its details feels like it is alive, the organic forms swell, stretch, press and push out. From a distance it looks like a bird that can fly away any time.

Do you have any insightful ideas on form as an architectural means?

Let us know what you think. And if you have any other comments, questions, ideas – please let us know.


  1. WRIGHT, S.H. (1989) ‘Sourcebook of Contemporary North American Architecture’ – affiliate link
  2. SAARINEN, E. Notes
  3. SAARINEN, E. (1959) as quoted in GOSSEL, P. and LEUTHAUSER, G.  Architecture in the 20th Century (2 vols, slipcase) (p.250) – affiliate link

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