Flying High

How important is the design of an airport?

Something noticeable about this month’s issue is that we’ve covered a lot of airports. I have to admit that this was unintentional. We always try to feature the most interesting projects in the region, and it just so happened that three major airports in the Middle East emerged recently.

One of these, Bodrum International Airport, by Turkish firm Tabanlioglu, has been completed. The architect’s specific aim was to create a holiday-like atmosphere, with high ceilings, optimum daylighting, minimal columns and quality materials.

Although perhaps not as spectacular as some of Tabanlioglu’s other projects, namely its Tripoli Congress Centre in Libya, Bodrum airport certainly has the firm’s familiar touch of panache.

The design of Jeddah’s new airport was also revealed last month. With interiors by Areen, the design has a decidedly Arabic flavour to it.
Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi is moving forward with its huge Midfield Terminal by KPF, also featured as a case study this month.

An airport that is certainly spectacular, and one that I have personally experienced, is Madrid-Barajas Terminal Four. Designed by Antonio Lamela and Richard Rogers, it’s the only airport I’ve visited and felt compelled to take photographs of the architecture.

Just like Bodrum airport, the architect’s aim was to make passengers feel at ease. When I landed in 2008 in Madrid, I felt exactly that. I was in no hurry to leave the airport, merely content to admire the undulating wooden ceiling and the colourful tree-like pillars.

My least favourite airport would have to be the one I’m most familiar with: London Heathrow. The more recent terminal buildings, such as Rogers’ Terminal Five, are slick if not jawdropping. Yet the size and sprawling nature of the airport is daunting and soul-destroying.

Furthermore, the overall passenger experience is marred by the support facilities – confusing traffic systems, badly designed car parks and an overriding grim environment. Even if the best terminal in the world was built in Heathrow, you’d probably feel depressed as soon as you stepped outside.

It would be too much to say that the design of an airport can make or break a trip, but it can certainly affect a passenger’s short term mood and first impressions of a destination. This partly explains why the likes of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Jeddah are pouring vast sums of money into grand airport projects.

Oliver Ephgrave is editor of Middle East Architect