The Big Kitchen at the World Trade Center, 1981

Exhibit / April 4, 2019

Object Name: The Big Kitchen
Maker and Year: Joe Baum, et al, 1977
Object Type: Dining establishments
Image Source: Luigi Donatello
Description: (K.E. Roberts)

The Big Kitchen, one of the country’s first large-scale food courts, opened in 1977 in the underground concourse of the World Trade Center complex. Conceived by famed restaurateur Joe Baum and designed by Philip George and Milton Glaser, the Big Kitchen comprised 8,000 square feet and offered, among other things, sit-down dining rooms, fresh fish, health food, a delicatessen, a bakery, a rotisserie, a cheese station, a soda fountain, and a coffee shop, the latter featuring seats that “folded up in the afternoon and [were] stored in specially designed booths hidden under a bank of pay phones.”

Graphic designer Glaser had just gained national recognition for the “I Love New York” logo, commissioned by the state to encourage tourism and combat (accurate) perceptions of the urban centers as derelict and pervasively violent. For the World Trade Center job, he installed 7½-foot letters (in custom font) that spelled out “BIG KITCHEN,” the sculptures serving all at once as partitions, nooks, tables, and seats. The checkerboard theme used on the letters and throughout the restaurant interiors recalls both the Memphis Group and the 1977 black and white Vans slip-on, which became a national fashion obsession after appearing in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

At the time the Big Kitchen opened, it was part of a massive, 170,000 square foot operation including 22 restaurants that spanned both Towers and the concourse, all of it meticulously overseen by Baum. His idea was to “fracture the mass,” filling large spaces with small, breathable clusters. The Big Kitchen alone was “projected to gross $20 million a year,” but the “showpiece” restaurant was the opulent Windows on the World, located on the uppermost floors (106th and 107th) of the North Tower. Soon after opening in 1976, the waiting list for the “no-holds-barred Baum production” stretched to six months.

The photos and captions above are taken from 1981’s The Interiors Book of Shops & Restaurants, by Pilar Viladas.

One thought on “The Big Kitchen at the World Trade Center, 1981

  1. As a lifelong resident of NY and someone who was there when the WTC were destroyed, I got a little misty-eyed there. I remember The Big Kitchen quite well. Thank you for that little bit saved for posterity.

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