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Why I Find Airports Spectacular
In the recent article My Architectural Bucket List, I expressed my desire to design an airport during my architectural career. For me, one of the most fun parts of going on holiday is spending time in the airports exploring and observing the architecture, people, and organisational processes. The complexes are a hive of excitement and anticipation coupled with cutting edge technology and hugely complex organisation that all come together within often beautiful yet highly functional architecture. There are a number of airports I want to visit in future, as in my experience they are even more astounding to experience first hand instead of through photographs. Looks like I have quite a bit of travelling to do.
Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio
Airports are dramatic and exciting, you can see it in people’s faces when they walk around (as well as the occasional touch of stress and frustration). Unless you are a frequent flyer for business reasons, getting on a plane and defying gravity is exhilarating, since it is a fairly rare occurrence. I predict that most people will only visit between five and fifteen airports in their lifetime, which is tiny compared to the number of other buildings we interact with. For this reason airports become memorable lifetime experiences, so they should be taken in through sight, sound and touch. Often the architecture of the airport is part of the experience for flyers. It becomes a backdrop to incredible holidays for families, or the scene for romantic reunions of loved ones that have long been apart. There is always something happening in airports, which makes them interesting to explore and observe. Every flyer has a unique narrative and end location; I think it would be wonderful to spend a few days in an airport speaking to whoever came through the terminals, you would hear some incredible stories. As well as people watching, complex behind the scenes processes are carried out with ruthless efficiency. Luggage handling, refuelling, taking off and landing, security and passenger movement must all function together like clockwork. It is a huge operation.
Carrasco Airport, Uruguay, Rafael Viñoly Architects
As someone who enjoys planning and organisation, when airports work well they become a functional dream to behold. From Heathrow a plane lands or takes off every 45 seconds, which is incredible. The amount of organisation that airport complexes facilitate just adds to their architectural brilliance. To design an airport would be one of the most complicated things I would ever attempt, but the satisfaction of the completed project would be immense. Flying is one of the most incredible feats of human engineering to date, and airports are the stunning gateway to realising this miracle of the modern era. When I fly, takeoff creates a blend in my mind of fear due to lack of understanding (how can something as heavy as a plane defy gravity?!) and heady joy because I’m flying and I can’t quite believe it. Airports capture the exhilaration of flight and ground it, allowing me to anticipate the flight and watch other planes defy gravity. In my opinion if an airport doesn’t have a viewing port to watch the planes taking off the architect has failed.
Marrakech Airport, Morocco, E2A Architecture
Some of the most beautiful buildings in the world are airports. The sites on which they are built are often vast, with little or no context. This means the architect is often given a degree of creative freedom to create a landmark building. Airports can potentially provide huge incomes, so budgets are normally large and briefs call for unique and memorable buildings which visitors will relate positively with the country. Interesting aesthetics can also result in a social media buzz about a location due to photographs of the airport. As well as for memorability, the variation in airport architecture comes from each one relating to the culture of its location. Designs often demonstrate a subtle, contemporary nod to traditional ideas, which can be beautiful as well as interesting and educational. The expansive, daylit spaces with high ceilings are a joy to experience, often with stunning spans and the roof structure on display.
Mumbai Airport, India, SOM
My enthusiasm in this post has hopefully rubbed off on you, and helped you realise how awesome airports are if you didn’t already. They blend so many ideas, functions and narratives into a unified whole that represents a whole nation. They work from a human scale for each passenger and his/her own personal narrative all the way up to a global scale that moves millions of people vast distances around the planet each day. Flight is a miracle to me, and I dream of the day when I as an architect may have the chance to reflect it in a stunning and beautiful airport of my own.