Airports are places you pass through on your way to somewhere else. They are one of society’s “non-places”, to use anthropologist Marc Augé’s definition, with no identity, relationships or history. Extraneous and unconnected to their surrounding environment, airports are traversed by passengers who are equally extraneous and uprooted.
Architect practice Autoban started from this very detachment of an airport to its context and of passengers to the culture of the place to define a new type of airport interior where forms, materials and programme have been conceived to meet the needs of passengers who, although there to go elsewhere, have to inhabit the space even if for just a few hours.
Autoban’s design for the interior of Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku, Azerbaijan, adapts to the architecture previously developed by Arup. The concept sprung from careful consideration of two aspects: the habits of airport users and the deep-rooted characteristics of the local culture.
The warm hospitality of the Azeri people is translated into the warm materials and welcoming volumes that fill the huge airport space. Throughout, restful neutral coloured wood and natural fibres echo the triangle patterns of Arup’s architectural structure. The programme also includes 16 gigantic open and closed wood “cocoons”. The result is a unique, somewhat disconcerting, yet intriguing landscape that invites visitors to explore.
The 16 “nests” - 11 closed, timber-clad pods and 5 created by an open weave of timber slats - contain two bars, a restaurant, a kids’ play area, a spa with beauty parlour, a book- and music store, and a series of airport-specific services. Their essential flexibility means they can be adapted to future unmet needs.
Airport passenger needs and habits along with the constraints of an already designed structure marked the starting point from which Autoban developed a whole new airport narrative to give travellers a new experience while at the same time complying with the functional and distribution demands of a busy airport.
The size and texture of the timber cocoons and the materials cladding the other surfaces provide an intermediate, human scale, somewhere between the vast airport hall and the tiny, hidden areas for plant and equipment. They lend a sense of closeness and hospitality.
The welcoming interiors invite people to pause and explore. They offer opportunities for human interaction, transforming an airport into a unique, recognizable place. The human need for warmth and welcome here takes on a physical form, connecting those passing through with the place they are in.