THE INEVITABLE AIRPORT CITY: A New Destination

Voted ‘Best Airport in North America’ four consecutive years by Business Traveller magazine, Denver International Airport (DEN) was the first airport to become the symbol of a city. In June, the American Institue of Architects will honour Curtis Fentress with the highest award for public architecture, the 2010 Thomas Jefferson Award . (Nick Merrick © Hedrich Blessing)

Curtis Fentress of Fentress Architects presents his views on the future of airport design.

Voted ‘Best Airport in North America’ four consecutive years by Business Traveller magazine, Denver International Airport (DEN) was the first airport to become the symbol of a city. In June, the American Institue of Architects will honour Curtis Fentress with the highest award for public architecture, the 2010 Thomas Jefferson Award . (Nick Merrick © Hedrich Blessing)

Access makes cities
It is not surprising that vibrant cities thrive on multimodal transportation.  Water sustains communities and trade, which explains why ancient cities were founded along waterways and ocean ports.  Thousands of years later, the advent of railways connected cities for passengers and freight.  Highways and cars have stimulated suburban sprawl since the 1950s, but in the past 15 years lifestyle and sustainability factors have contributed to a revival of urban living.  Air travel further facilitated globalisation, bringing unmatched speed and convenience.  Airport cities are inevitable – a natural evolution for urban development in this global age.
 
Aerotropolis:
redefining airport cities
As airports and surrounding developments offer greater amenities, these travel hubs are transforming into full-service airport cities – destinations in themselves. Admired for their exceptional services, passenger comfort and innovation, international airports in Seoul, Singapore and Hong Kong have dominated Skytrax’s ‘World’s Best Airport’ title as the only airports to claim this honour in the past eleven years, as voted by nearly 10 million international travellers.  The distinguishing elements between ‘good’ and the ‘world’s best’ airports are superior passenger experience and aerotropolis developments.  The aerotropolis goes beyond the physical parameters of an airport city—it offers a new perspective and way of life, centred on global connectivity and sustainable communities.
These forward-looking airports, such as Incheon (ICN), offer amenities that enable passengers to get a haircut, manicure, massage, shower and rest in private sleeping rooms before attending a business meeting at the airport or city centre.  Constantly evolving, Incheon plans to offer more complete city-like amenities with ‘downtown’ urban centres, pedestrian malls, convention centers, cinemas, golf courses, clubs, hotels, resorts, office and residential components.
In designing the terminal at ICN, which opened in 2001, we aimed to create a memorable gateway to South Korea and the Asia-Pacific region.  The airport provides a haven for weary travellers with abundant natural light, lush native landscaping and hospitality that all reflect Korean heritage and culture.  The airport city master plan uses a single axis to tie the airport to the city and the sea, connecting the passenger terminal, rail station, city and water terminal.
Some land-constricted airports in major metropolitan areas face challenges in controlling the urban planning of their airport cities.  Since the land is already developed, some elements of an ‘airport city’ might exist, but the airport has little or no control over the businesses and amenities that occupy its adjacent land.  The international airports in Seoul and Denver, Colorado, are uniquely positioned with land parcels about the size of Manhattan, on which they own the land and thus control the urban planning and development.  Denver is currently planning a new 500-room, four-star Westin hotel adjacent to the terminal as it prepares for future growth as an airport city.
 
Design for people
In my last 40 years of architectural practice, each client, building and location has taught me insightful lessons about designing public buildings that serve all users.  I have distilled these into eight Touchstones of Design.  Essential to airports – one of the most complex building types – these design principles include tenets such as allowing history, culture and context to guide the design; creating an entry that’s easy to find; listening closely to the client and user groups instead of creating a monument to the architect; and ultimately designing beautiful and functional spaces for the people who use the buildings, for now and for years to come.  Our book Touchstones of Design: [re]defining public architecture, released in May 2010, further explains these principles, which have guided the Fentress studio in creating large-scale public buildings that become celebrated gateways and the heart of smart-growth cities.
 
More than green
Not simply a follower of the green movement, the conscientious architect designs with the natural environment in mind.  Daylighting and shading, recycling and reusing, utilizing alternative energy, local materials and rapidly renewable resources, reharvesting water, landscaping with native plants, and integrating multimodal transit – all of these are second nature to global gateways.  Sustainable airports are catalysts for the airport city.  We are currently designing 500,000m2 of airport space, all of which will achieve LEED Silver certification or higher.  One by one, we strive to create regional gateways that become the pride of airport communities around the world.
 
Airports of the future
As with sustainability and security, technology and the need for more flexibility and convenience are driving innovations in passenger experience.  We envision Mobile Office Pods – or, as I affectionately refer to them, M-Pods – as the next generation of airport terminal amenities.  Such ‘first-class’ seating will diffuse fresh air, recline to a sleep position, and provide a big screen and keyboard interface for smart devices.  Passengers can watch movies in their own ‘personal theatre’ with surround sound while enjoying food and beverage delivery.
The Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) new Terminal B, designed by the Fentress studio, will open in June with the nation’s first ‘air chair’, which provides fresh air directly to passengers from below each seat, along with power outlets for charging electronics.  According to David Maas, Deputy Director of Planning and Development at SJC, San Jose will also debut the CTX9800, likely the fastest automated in-line baggage screening in the US, effectively doubling the capacity of current ‘hands-on’ security screening systems.
Common-use facilities with self-service are rapidly advancing with innovations such as electronic baggage tags and paperless travel using mobile phone boarding passes.  Remote baggage drop in city centres grows as multimodal travel at airports becomes more integrated.
The Fentress studio is currently designing a major modernisation at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the US gateway to the Asian economic powers, to transform the outdated Bradley International Terminal into a gleaming hub of world-class passenger conveniences.  To serve the next generation of superjumbo luxury jets, nine of its 16 new gates will accommodate the A380 Airbus and Boeing 787 Dreamliner, enabling LAX to serve more ‘heavy-duty’ transpacific flights than any other airport in North America by 2012.
As evident in today’s forward-looking airport cities, the aerotropolis of the future will be measured by accessibility, sustainability and convenience.  Access makes cities.  Global access, superlative service and meticulous planning make airport cities.