Selecting passenger seating is a complex exercise, says international correspondent Carroll McCormick.
The choice and arrangement of passenger seating for two major Canadian airport terminal projects exemplify today’s views on passenger needs and comfort, and the integration of seating into building architecture.
The projects in question are the new 548,960sq ft (51,000m2) terminal at the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport and the 462,848sq ft (43,000m2) terminal expansion at Edmonton International Airport (EIA). The new Winnipeg terminal opened in October 2011 and phase one of the EIA expansion opened this February.
Both airports went to great lengths to accommodate the various needs of business travellers and families. The seating, which provides comfort to those with long waits for their flights as well as power for electronic devices, is durable and integrates harmoniously into the architecture.
Seating philosophy has evolved rapidly in the past decade. Prime drivers include security measures after 9/11 that have greatly increased passenger waiting times, the realisation that passenger stress was increasing and the near-ubiquitous use of smart-phones, laptops and other electronic devices. Additionally, architects and designers want seating styles and arrangements to be incorporated into the bold architecture that characterises most modern airport terminals.
Stantec was the prime consultant and executive architect for the Winnipeg terminal, together with PCP Architects, and the prime consultant and provider of all architectural and engineering services for the EIA expansion. Stanis Smith, the company’s Senior Vice President, Architecture and Engineering, explains: “The [departure] lounge is now key to the passenger experience. This is why there’s all the attention to seating and accommodating other needs. Seating has moved towards a more relaxed style, integrating with food and beverages, with passengers plugging in laptops and iPads and really enjoying their experience before getting on the planes.
“The selection of seating and fabric has to fit in very much with the architectural design concept. The idea that seating and architecture and interior look and feel are integrated is the direction we are going.”
The style of the Winnipeg terminal incorporates the ‘universal design’ concept, the goal of which is to make the terminal usable by people of as many abilities as possible. The seating reflects this goal; for example, there are 25 seats with wheelchair logos positioned nearest the gates and with no armrests. The number of seats per row is usually four or five for better utilisation, and they are arranged perpendicular to the windows to improve traffic flow. There is also plenty of room to circulate between the rows.
Barry Rempel, CEO, Winnipeg Airport Authority (WAA), explains: “We worked closely with our universal design committee, which was made up of people with different kinds of abilities. Seating was designed around pathways the committee created.”
WAA and the architects and designers collaborated on the arrangement of the hold-room seating. During the bidding process, WAA kept the manufacturers at arm’s length, but this changed as soon as the winning manufacturer, Arconas, won the bid for the seating.
“They began working with us and it became much more of a collaborative relationship,” says Lynn Gordon, the manufacturer’s VP of Airport Solutions, adding: “Arconas became very involved in developing the vision and seating concept for the terminal, particularly
the Queen’s Court area and the selection of finishes and fabrics.”
The integration of form, function and architecture is exemplified in the Queen’s Court area, located near the food and beverage concessions. There are cafeteria-style tables and groupings of ‘Curio’ two-seat sofas around settee-style tables in front of the glass curtain wall. WAA considers this mix of seating types to be an important customer service enhancement.
Mr Rempel explains that since Winnipeg has far more origin and destination passengers than connecting travellers – such as early morning charter passengers – soft seating is of particular importance. “We concentrated on what would enhance the customer experience.” On the other hand, he notes: “Business travellers are not sitting in the soft seating. They are getting a bite to eat and are sitting at tables.”
WAA embraced the use of passenger-friendly, multi-use ottomans, which function as foot-rests, tables and benches. Arconas flyaway clusters have been arranged to make parent-friendly areas and an informal enclosure around the children’s play area. Elsewhere, clusters have been attached to row ends to create pleasing patterns.
The row seating includes a lot of tables between seats. This gives passengers more personal space and places to set down their belongings. “This leads to higher seat utilisation and makes passengers more comfortable,” explains Christine Alongi, Director, Communications and Public Affairs, WAA.
The architectural team, in consultation with WAA, chose the carpet colours first and the seating colours – cabernet for the flyaway seats and charcoal gray for the Curio sofas and chairs – last. “We are often involved in the selection of the colour and we work with the vendor on the selection of the fabric, its look and feel and the technical performance,” Mr Smith comments. WAA was also involved in testing the seating and providing input on texture, for example.
As part of WAA’s sustainable approach to airport site redevelopment, Arconas recovered the seat cushions on 200 of its landings row seats from the old terminal. They can now be found in the arrivals area between the luggage carousels and in the check-in lobby.
Power for smart-phones and other electronic equipment passengers carry has become a highly sought-after service enhancement. The floors of the new terminal are pre-wired, so it will be a straightforward task to deliver power to seats and tables once WAA is satisfied the furniture arrangements correctly suit its passengers.
Some power stations and recharging tables have already been installed, such as along the passenger corridor at the domestic departure gate and at the bar. However, Mr Rempel observes: “I had assumed that people at the bar would use power, but they don’t. We find that where we thought people would plug in and charge their cell-phones is not necessarily where they want to do it. We see people sitting in corners on the floor plugging into wall outlets. But since we pre-planned for power, we have a lot of options. Our group on the design team wanted to see how passengers would use the airport before fixing in all the power.
“We’re starting to see how people are using the building; for example, we know already that we need to rearrange some of the seating, particularly in the transborder area. We’re going to commit one part of the airport to business areas with more connectivity; a more desk-type environment than soft seating. We have areas and seating to do this.”
The EIA terminal expansion is coming on stream in three phases: on February 11, EIA opened the new 108,403sq ft (11,000m2) US Departures area, which is three times as large as its predecessor. On August 15, EIA plans to open the new Canada Border Services Agency arrivals hall and, on September 15, the new domestic/international hold room.
Stantec selected a wide variety of seating types for the three areas – including bench seating by Arconas, soft seating by manufacturers such as Arcadia, Magis, Davis, Walter Knoll, Interna and Tacchine, tables by CUBO Design and Interwest and food court chairs by ISA International.
Gord Myrehaug, Director of Activation, EIA, says: “It’s quite a change from what we had. For the existing building we went by IATA standards and bench seating. With the new terminal we went for soft seating and making it much more comfortable for passengers.”
EIA went to great lengths to make sure passengers would like the new furniture and that it was of the highest quality. During the bidding process, EIA put sample furniture in the old terminal for six weeks. Passengers tried out the different models and recorded what they thought of them in forms provided by the airport.
The EIA selection committee took life-cycle costing very seriously. Janice Hicks, Senior Associate, Stantec, explains: “Everyone was very much on base with the need to buy the very best quality. We supplied maintenance with fabrics and they tried different stain processes to see how easy they were to remove. This put maintenance at ease and everyone else at ease.” Ms Hicks was responsible for the interior design and made the initial seating selections. She adds: “Maintenance had an awful lot to say about the selection process.”
Maintenance also had the opportunity to find out how easily the seats could be taken apart. Ms Hicks explains: “Maintenance would rather not have to take a seat out of commission. When we were selecting and going through details, we had to alter some features so this could be done.” The furniture also had to be easy to reconfigure and have a minimum of spare component types.
Both Ms Hicks and Mr Smith stress the value of the architect’s knowledge of fibre technology, experience with the furniture in other airports and knowledge of vendors’ products in selecting seating that provides comfort and long-term durability.
The solutions developed to maximise passenger comfort and choice are many. Little alcoves create gathering areas. Short rows of seating outside shops, and cushioned benches in the middle of the breezeways, provide rest stops. Bar stools with seat backs and cafeteria chairs provide additional choices. One boarding lounge is outfitted with 22 five-seat rows in back-to-back pairs. Small clusters of cushioned chairs, soft semi-circular settees for larger groups and plenty of small tables create feelings of intimacy on broad expanses of carpeting representing prairie colours.
“Our intent is that [the boarding lounges] don’t feel like places where people feel imprisoned, but rather like where people want to spend time,” Mr Smith explains.
Ms Hicks specified several colours, each selected to complement the master plan and palette of materials, colours and textures. They include fudge, green, brown, tan and red for the adult seating. The children’s furniture in the two play areas is a crayon box of colours. “We started with the prairie colour palette concepts. Then we went to how the floors and walls and seating would support that. We had a conceptual direction first and everything had to relate to that,” Mr Smith says.
The most visually striking seating area is a creation called Kopperscape – a work of art and functional furniture. This arrangement of 20 or so seats, plus tables, arranged around a circular performance stage looks like chocolate that’s begun to melt under a hot sun. “People are using the sculpture seating a lot. They are drawn to it. Not just kids, but adults too,” notes Mr Myrehaug.
Mr Smith enthuses about Kopperscape: “It’s seating, sculpture, performance space and architecture. I think it’s a truly remarkable way to express seating, not an afterthought. It’s whimsical and fun. To me, Kopperscape exemplifies thinking outside the box when it comes to what seating can be.”
EIA purchased many small touches that help achieve its goal of ensuring its passengers’ comfort. There are foot-stools, leg-rests and coffee-holders. Strategically placed arm rests on the bench seating help define personal spaces.
Power, a rare commodity in the old terminal, is widely available in the extension. There are power outlets in the sit-down restaurants, at the stand-up work stations, at the curved seating and along the corridors. There’s power at two-thirds of the air diffusers (vents where air is pumped into the terminal) which also have counters for laptops. There’s power at the flyaway business clusters which, as an aid to concentration, are placed well away from the play areas.
The overall effect at these two airports – easy to enjoy but requiring great skill to achieve – is a successful blending of many elements which support the overall architectural visions and increase passenger comfort as much as possible.
Selecting passenger seating is a complex exercise, says international correspondent Carroll McCormick.