Except for people who have their own jets, most would agree that the romance of air travel faded long ago. But that isnât stopping those who want to be on the move. Worldwide, aviation numbers are expected to double to 8.2 billion passengers per year by 2037, say estimates by the International Air Transport Association. Airports everywhere are racing to ramp up capacity, with $737.3 billion-worth of projects in planning, design, or construction globally, according to one industry-analysis firm.
More than many countries, the United States is suffering from outmoded aviation infrastructure, with the average terminal building more than 40 years old. According to T.J. Schulz, president of the Airport Construction Council, at least $70 billion is being spent over five years, beginning in 2017, modernizing 50 medium and large U.S. airports. The lionâs share of this sum is going toward terminalsâtheir revamping, expansion, or construction.
For architects, the focus is not merely on moving travelers from curbside to gate as smoothly as possible but trying to improve the ambience of travel. âItâs not all about speed and efficiency,â says Ryan Fetters, a senior associate in Genslerâs San Francisco office. In a joint venture with Kuth Ranieri Architects, Gensler is part of a design-build team for the landside of the $2.4 billion Harvey Milk Terminal 1 under construction at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The team describes the facility as transparent and daylight-filled, with features such as intuitive navigation, site-specific art, and generous areas for passengers to reorganize their belongings after going through security.
Many architects are trying to elevate the passenger experience by injecting airports with local flavor. âWe try to capture the spirit of the place, even if it isnât a top goal of the client,â says Laura Ettelman, managing partner in the New York office of SOM. Among her firmâs current projects is the 2.4 million-square-foot Terminal 2 at Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru, India, organized around a series of indoor and outdoor green spaces. The scheme, inspired by the tech hubâs history as a garden city, takes advantage of its benign climate and will offer a ârich, sensory experience,â she says.
For architects dealing with a multitude of complex functional requirements and rapidly advancing technology, terminals are buildings that can quickly become outmoded, says Ettelmanâs colleague Derek Moore, SOM aviation practice leader. He points to Eero Saarinenâs TWA Flight Center at New Yorkâs John F. Kennedy International Airport as the âposter childâ of this obsolescence problem. Enclosed by a dramatic, winglike thin-shell roof, the building, which was conceived before the introduction of the first commercial jet, was out of date almost as soon as it opened in 1962.
Since TWA, aircraft have of course continued to evolve, though sometimes in unexpected ways. The latest example is the phaseout of the Airbus A380 announced by the manufacturer in February. Sales of the superjumbo jet, designed for long-haul travel and carrying up to 850 passengers, have been stagnant as airlines opted for smaller planes that use less fuel per seat. Many of the budget airlines that serve regional airports, meanwhile, have been flying fewer flights than before, now with larger aircraft, like the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, for similar reasons of economy.
Disruption in the airline industry can make a facility outmoded almost overnight. Pittsburgh International Airport occupies a 1992 terminal designed as a US Airways hub to handle up to 32 million passengers per year, many of them connecting to other flights. But after US Airways merged with American in 2013, traffic hit a low, and the airport now operates primarily as an origin and destination facility, with about 9.5 million passengers annually. Officials plan to âright sizeâ by building a smaller terminal, now in schematic design by a joint venture of Gensler and HDR in association with Madrid-based luis vidal + architects. âWe currently have ever increasing maintenance costs and aging infrastructure that we canât upgrade,â explains Paul Hoback, the airportâs chief development officer.
The changes in how people get to the airport are affecting planning as well. More people are arriving by ride-share services like Uber and Lyft, and revenue from park