Airports have traditionally been built as functional conduits connecting travelers to planes. As the first structures experienced by many travelers, they are also windows into a culture’s intended representation to the rest of the world. They are, however, at the mercy of the high level of functionality demanded of them. Every year the number of global travelers rises dramatically, rendering older airports extremely inefficient if not almost entirely incapable of accommodating the number of pedestrian and aircraft traffic as well as the changing and new demands of the citizens. In 2015, we can already see trends in airport and terminal designs as we prepare to move the expected 3.6 billion air passengers of 2016 (with China alone accounting for nearly 25% of the rising numbers) in a comfortable, efficient, and stress-less environment.
We can already see similarities in the cutting-edge designs of air travel infrastructure. as pointed out by CNN, Angela Gittens, director general of Airports Council International, states that passengers are now ‘looking for a greater sense of orientation, control, safety, visibility and openness.’ David Stewart, head of development at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has found that travelers are ‘craving a sense of place’. What we expect of an airport has changed. Anyone who’s traveled has surely experienced delays or cancellations resulting in seemingly interminable layovers spent crouched sideways on an uninviting grey plastic bench with each seats indentation digging into your ribs, or nestled against a wall on a concrete floor in the middle of a busy hallway attempting to salvage what’s left of your phone’s remaining battery on the only outlet available in a 30 foot radius. We’ve all had to rush through confusing hallways, unexpected additional security lines, disorganized transportation between terminals in dated, (sometimes) odorous, and crowded spaces. we want our airports to be comfortable, spacious and visually stunning. After all, they are a representation of your local culture as they are the first thing a visitor experiences, especially given the rising number of air travelers expected. London Heathrow now contains ‘plane food’, a restaurant serving Gordon Ramsey’s Delicacies; while one can enjoy Carles Gaig’s Catalan Cuisine at Porta Gaigin in Barcelona. We are seeing an injection of local flavor and culture being introduced into what was previously the international sterility of all airports.
Given the new characteristics and the desperate retrofitting being adopted all over the world, it can be safe to say that the airport is an infrastructure swiftly moving from a ‘building’ to an ‘environment’, an extension and representation of place, both out of desire and necessity.
The airport of the future features dramatic parametrically-derived canopies draped over incredibly large open spaces wrapped in glass- but most noticable is the integration of green space. Moshe Safdie’s Jewel Airport expansion in Singapore is arguable leading this front, with an almost Jurassic ambiance covered in a glass roof dipping into a 40′ waterfall equipped with awe-inspiring LED lights. Expansive glass surfaces, now made possible due to the improvements in efficient low-e glass, illuminate massive spaces with natural light as they benefit from thermal efficiency. Lobbies turn into green houses with improved air qualities and pant life that is already proven to relax people in what is typically a very frantic and stressful environment.
Airports are also adopting efficient transportation as a new standard. You will be hard pressed to find a new airport that does not contain convenient transport options directly to the center of the nearest city. Designers have finally been catching on to the fact that the greatest airport in the world is nothing if you can’t easily get to the nearby city, or inversely back to the airport for departure.