Saarinen’s original futuristic design featured a prominent wing-shaped thin shell roof over the main terminal (head house), unusual tube-shaped departure-arrival corridors originally wrapped in red carpet — and critical to the spirit of the design — expansive windows that highlighted departing and arriving jets. The concrete shell’s evocative shape — which inspired Saarinen to develop special, curved edge ceramic tile to conform to the curvilinear shapes — places the design into the categories of Futurist, Googie, and Fantastic architecture.
The terminal was also the first with enclosed passenger jetways, closed circuit television, a central public address system, baggage carousels, electronic schedule board and baggage scales, and the satellite clustering of gates away from the main terminal. Food and beverage services included the Constellation Club, Lisbon Lounge, and Paris Café.
JFK was unusual in having company-owned and designed terminals. Terminals were built by Eastern Airlines and American Airlines and while others carried the names of their airlines, including the Worldport of Pan American World Airways and the Sundrome of National Airlines.
As with many terminals designed before the advent of jumbo jets, increased passenger traffic and security issues, the design proved difficult to update as air travel evolved; terminal gates close to the street made centralized ticketing and security checkpoints difficult.