The future belongs to airports. Cities for people who fly (and more)
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The future belongs to airports. Cities for people who fly (and more)

Zaha Hadid Architects | Fentress Architects

The future belongs to airports. Cities for people who fly (and more)
By Refresh Design -

In theory, all a plane needs to take off is a strip of flat land. But we humans like to dream big. And that might be why, sooner or later, so many of the biggest names in architecture design an airport. Or they design their second or third, like Norman Foster, who announced a few months ago that from now on he only wants to design airports. The problem is, though, that for a number of years, airports have been one of society’s favorite whipping boys and scapegoats for the planet’s ills. They cause pollution and urban sprawl. They’re emblems of the globalized, culturally anonymous city – those places of rampant capitalism that neo-champion of the environment Greta Thunberg wants banned. (She even asked to travel by ship from Sweden to New York rather than taking a more convenient flight.) So, why does Foster want to devote himself to designing these things?

It’s because airports are fascinating, and designing them is a bit like designing a city – a city for people who fly, people who wait, people who want to leave but can’t. You could easily live in an airport. (And Tom Hanks did in The Terminal, in which he played an Eastern European tourist who ends up stateless and stranded at JFK.) French anthropologist Marc Augé would disagree, however. For him, airports are classic “non-places,” that is, spaces focused exclusively on the present and representative exclusively of our age. Spaces that are, in a word, precarious.

But perhaps that’s the secret charm of airports, even in the Covid era: they’re mutable spaces in which we can feel at ease precisely because, now more than ever, we understand how precarious our existence is. Being in the here and now, while in eternal cities rich in the past, doesn’t have the same value as before. It scares us. We now need some precariousness in our lives. And architects have understood this and are going back to designing airports.

There’s one section for planes…

which, through the course of the twentieth century, reflected the evolution of this means of transport. At first, airports were little more than fields equipped with the most essential facilities. As technology developed and passenger traffic grew, however, we moved towards huge structures that can handle hundreds of flights and thousands of passengers every day. First you need a runway, which can be as short as a thousand feet at non-hub airports or as long as 18 thousand feet at major airports. And major airports generally have several of them so that a number of planes can land and take off at the same time.

…and one for passengers…

with a whole series of facilities dedicated to departures, arrivals, and parking. This section, the actual “airport terminal,” is a small city offering a whole range of shops, travel services, restaurants, and bars.

So, where do you start when designing an airport?

The Transport category of The Plan Award 2021

Over the years, the Transport category of The Plan Award, an annual international award for excellence in architecture, interior design, and urban planning, has attracted numerous transport facility projects that have achieved excellence in contemporary architecture. Along with the award’s nineteen other categories, the Transport category will again be a feature in 2021, dedicated to both small and large transport-related projects. The registration deadline is May 31.

Find out how to take part in The Plan Award 2021.

The best way to explain the kind of projects eligible for the Transport category is to present a few entries from past editions of The Plan Award.


Beijing Daxing International Airport, Zaha Hadid architects

Beijing Daxing International Airport is a new airport in China’s Daxing district, some 28 miles (46 km) south of the city center (20 minutes by express train).

Built to alleviate congestion at the capital’s existing airport, Beijing Daxing will be a major transport hub for the region with the world’s fastest growing demand for international travel. The facility is already fully integrated into China’s growing transport network.

Initially serving 45 million passengers annually, Beijing Daxing will be handling 72 million travelers per annum by 2025. Further expansion is planned, and it will eventually handle up to 100 million passengers and four million tons of cargo every year.

Echoing principles of traditional Chinese architecture, which typically organizes interconnected spaces around a central space, the terminal is designed to guide passengers seamlessly through their respective departure, arrival, or transfer areas towards the large central courtyard, a multi-level meeting place at the heart of the terminal.

Six fluid structures incorporated into the terminal’s vaulted roof extend down to floor level, letting in natural light and attracting passengers towards the courtyard. Natural light also enters the building from a network of linear skylights, which create an intuitive navigation system through the building, guiding passengers to and from their gates.

Read more about the project in English.


An iconic gateway: Orlando International Airport South Terminal, Fentress architects

The design of this airport terminal centers on a series of urban design strategies used to create a fluid environment that can adapt to the changing needs of users, the community, and the environment. The Boulevard is a walkway at the center of the terminal that joins together land transport, check-in, retail, and security services along a straight line. The Town Square and Palm Court punctuate the Boulevard, serving as landmarks within the terminal, a little like town squares. These bright spaces with extensive plantings act as central gathering places for passengers and help contribute to the pleasure of travel.

The arrival experience has been enhanced by flipping – both figuratively and literally – the conventional notion of what an airport terminal looks like, swapping the arrival and departure levels. After their flight, passengers are greeted by sunny Central Florida and its gardens as they enter a large, bright space on the top level. The glass roof offers views of the natural environment, providing a true sense of arrival and welcome to Orlando and the United States.

Interactive media screens have been seamlessly integrated into the terminal’s architecture, offering visitors a chance to explore Central Florida’s famous theme parks and excursions, and get a taste of the region’s dynamic identity. Departing passengers will be able to display their vacation photos on the screens as they share with friends and reminisce about their unforgettable travels.

Take a stroll down the Boulevard and read more about the project (in English).


Se hai progettato un complesso dedicato alla mobilità, realizzato dopo il 1° gennaio 2018 o non ancora costruito, hai tempo fino al 31 maggio per iscriverti alla categoria Transport del The Plan Award 2021, presentando il tuo progetto attraverso la pagina dedicata.

All other credits relating to photos and render refer to individual articles.

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