To a layperson, airport architecture and design might seem like it is all about building beautiful modern buildings that impress with their exterior architecture. The reality is that airport architecture needs to be as functional as it is good looking. The idea is to provide passengers of commercial flights a pleasant experience that reduces anxiety during the short time in which they wait to board a flight. Additionally, an airport needs to have a well-planned layout that presents a seamless movement of the users, from the check-in counters, through the security control and right up to the waiting area before boarding the flight. Besides this, the airport needs to have work spaces or offices for the airport authority and its employees, besides contractors who facilitate services such as baggage handling, in-flight catering and janitorial services. Needless to say, the larger or busier the airport, the more efficiently the layout should be planned so that everything functions like clockwork.
Several elements go into planning and designing an airport as each city or destination will have unique needs. While the basic facilities such as parking, check-in counters, rest rooms, security control zones, waiting areas, baggage claim and cafes are common, the scale and the design will depend on the goal of the organization that owns or manages the airport as well as the area available for the build. Often, the regulations and the culture of the city or country affects the design. For example, an airport that has restrictions on the amount it can charge for airline fees might design the passenger flow in a way that encourages retail spending from which they can earn additional revenue. On the other hand, a tiny airport might not need a large retail area is it doesn't have significant footfalls to justify the investment.
While a commercial architect can undertake the task of planning and designing an airport, it's advisable to consult a specialist in airport architecture who has experience in designing terminal buildings that are functional and beautiful as the facilities and the requirements can be quite different compared to a commercial space such as a retail mall or an office building.
What makes the airport architecture and design process different from that of commercial architecture?
Unlike other commercial projects such as office buildings or retail spaces, airport architecture is a collaborative approach. Instead of a single architect's vision, the design is dependent on inputs from a wide range of specialists from diverse areas such as security, ground operations, baggage handling, passenger experience, etc.
Gone are the days when an airport building was designed to be a functional transportation hub. With air travel gaining popularity over the last couple of decades, the focus of airport architecture and design has moved away from being merely utilitarian. Nowadays, architects try to design an environment that appeals to the aesthetics besides reducing stress for passengers whether they are arriving, departing or transiting from the airport.
Additionally, the design should provide flexibility for expansion and change without having to alter the structure of the terminal to meet the growing needs based on market demand or the requirements for newer systems or protocols related to security regulations.
What are the various components of airport architecture and design?
The planning and designing of an airport is an extremely complex process that requires specialized skills. The main components include the exterior spaces such as the runway, taxiway, aprons and hangars. Additionally, every airport needs a control tower for monitoring the air space. Besides these operational areas, the terminal is the main centre for passenger handling, and therefore, the airport needs to have parking facilities besides a transportation hub for buses, taxis or other modes of transports that passengers can use to travel to and from the airport.
For these components to come together in a seamless manner, experts from diverse fields such as engineering, architecture, operations and customer services need to collaborate.
What are the main challenges in airport design?
Air travel has become more accessible over the years but with it has come challenges that architects and designers have to work through. The first challenge is that of regulations, not only in terms of security controls that ensure the safety of the passengers but also broader issues that affect the public. These include environmental issues that need to be addressed, including noise pollution and air quality.
In India's urban landscape, another challenging task is trying to plan the airport within the limited space. Airports need a lot of land to accommodate the runways, the terminal, hangars and parking. However, identifying and getting clearances for large stretches of land is not an easy task, especially since airports need to be at a safe distance from residential areas to prevent noise pollution. Additionally, one needs to plan for future expansions.
As mentioned earlier, the planning and designing involve a collaboration of several skilled professionals. However, this could mean long delays in the process if two experts don't agree on something. Last, but not least, is the need to provide the user with a seamless experience.
Another major challenge of airport architecture is to develop a design that encompasses the needs of the airline, the passengers as well as the administration within the available budget.
What should one look for in good airport architecture?
Modern airport design needs to look beyond aesthetics and seamlessly blend functionality to create a pleasant environment that reduces the stress of passengers. Primarily, airport architecture and interior design should manage passenger flow in a more efficient manner to enhance the experience for users. While other technical factors are important, the design should focus on the users' needs to create a calm and more enjoyable environment. The design should be created after assessing the average time spent in each area whether it's the check-in counters, security, immigration control or baggage claim to try to minimize the bottlenecks and make the foot traffic move smoothly through each zone. Additionally, waiting halls should have ample seating that is comfortable, besides modern amenities such as charging stations for electronic devices so that the users are not inconvenienced in case of delays or long waits.
How should one identify the right architect for airport design?
Airport architecture and design are best left to specialists who have years of experience working on several airport projects. Besides asking for references and visiting the airports designed by a professional, it's advisable to ensure that the specialist has a strong team of professionals who provide the required collaborative support that is vital to the successful execution of airport design.
On homify, you can find photographs of professionally designed projects for airports by architects and designers registered with our portal. This includes smaller projects such as restaurant and retail store design inside the airport to more comprehensive layouts that try to ease passenger flow. Browsing through the images will give an idea of the design style as well as the quality or the finish of a project. Based on this, you can identify a few suitable professionals and submit a request to get a free consultation for your airport project, whether it's for a small café outside the entry area or a plush lounge in the retail and leisure zone inside the terminal building.