Modern airports have become larger and larger in scale. With increasingly bigger aprons, multiple programs, and countless travelers a year, this typology’s prevalence has grown exponentially. Known for a variety of unique spatial experiences, from massive waiting rooms and luxury lounges to compressed jet ways, airport architecture has really only emerged within the last century. Today, architects and designers are starting to creatively dissolve the daunting scale of airports to explore their role in contemporary urban life.
Often serving as a city’s first impression, airports combine landscapes, ecologies, air rights, and infrastructure to connect people and place. As new technologies and advancements transform aviation, so too has airport architecture evolved to meet modern travel demands. With an impressive range of scales, programs, and material assemblies, the following projects showcase dynamic and thoughtful aviation spaces. Often designed as gateways or portals, the structures each create spatial and formal references to their surrounding contexts and cultures. While they build upon local logic and construction methods, many designs combine vernacular traditions and new technology to create powerful new experiences. Each project establishes secure facilities while fostering organization, contemplation, and connection.
The existing Cologne/Bonn Airport is a landmark. The demands of wide-body jets, the associated requirement for additional functional and circulatory areas, as well as intensified security arrangements and baggage handling all combined to demand a restructuring of the airport. Both on the air and landsides, the solution consists of tensioned steel umbrella structures that also provide roofing over the new vehicle access driveway. Outside the existing building, the same steel umbrellas form a light and translucent terminal hall with adjacent terminal gates.
The airport has a highly efficient passive design, which has been inspired by local traditions, and is based on a flexible modular solution that allows for future expansion – the new building secures the city’s position as the main hub for the Levant region. In response to Amman’s climate, where summer temperatures vary markedly between day and night time, the building is constructed largely from concrete, the high thermal mass of the material providing passive environmental control. The tessellated roof canopy comprises a series of shallow concrete domes, which extend to shade the facades.
Kutaisi International Airport serves domestic and international flights for use by tourists, national politicians and international diplomats. UNStudio’s design for the new airport incorporates both Georgia’s historic landscape and its architecture. In Georgia public buildings and private houses employ their entrance lobbies as showcases for their individual identities. In the design for the new airport UNStudio embraces this architectural concept in order to manifest Georgia’s young and dynamic democracy.
As the first major improvement in 25 years, Fentress' design aimed to recharge the outdated LAX with a convenient and comfortable passenger experience. The Los Angeles ambiance is captured with Pacific Ocean-inspired roof forms that recall rhythmic waves breaking on the shore. The wave-like ceiling was designed to reduce solar glare and heat from the ocean on the west and bathe the terminal in natural light from the northeast. Expansive glass curtain walls offer dramatic views of the airfield and the nearby Santa Monica Mountains.
The concept of the plan for Terminal 3 of Shenzen Bao’an international airport evokes the image of a manta ray, a fish that breathes and changes its own shape, undergoes variations, turns into a bird to celebrate the emotion and fantasy of a flight. The structure of T3 - an approximately 1,5-km-long tunnel – seems to be modeled by the wind and is reminiscent of the image of an organic-shaped sculpture. The profile of the roofing is characterized by variations in height alluding to the natural landscape.
Ten years ago, Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport welcomed six million passengers per year through its gates; today it serves nearly five times that number. With the city’s emergence as India’s financial capital and the country’s rapidly expanding and economically mobile middle class, the existing airport infrastructure proved unable to support the growing volume of domestic and global traffic. By orchestrating the complex web of passengers and planes into a design that feels intuitive and responds to the region’s rocketing growth, the new Terminal 2 becomes a gateway to India.
The Suvarnabhumi Airport is constructed on a greenfield site 24 km east of Bangkok. The first phase, accommodating 45 million annual passengers will include 56 contact gates and 64 hardstand positions with 563,000 SM of terminal facilities. Planned maximum capacity after phased expansion will be 120 million annual passengers. The masterplan utilizes a terminal/pier concept that emphasizes passenger circulation over aircraft circulation.
The Ilan and Asaf Ramon International Airport / Amir Mann-Ami Shinar Architects + Moshe Zur Architects
The Ilan and Asaf Ramon International Airport was designed by Amir Mann-Ami Shinar Architects and Planners in partnership with Moshe Zur Architects. The Airport, servicing the Red Sea resort city of Eilat and surrounding region, was commissioned by the Israel Airport Authority (IAA) and was handled from A to Z by the architects in their role as Design Managers. Located in Timna, it is Israel's first civil airport built from scratch ("greenfield").
Beijing Daxing International Airport is a new airport in the Daxing district 46km south of the city centre (20 minutes by express train). Developed to alleviate congestion at the capital’s existing airport, Beijing Daxing will be a major transport hub for the region with the world’s fastest-growing demand for international travel and is fully integrated within the country’s expanding transport network.
The NAT (T4) at the International Madrid-Barajas Airport is located three kilometers north of the old Barajas terminals TI, T2 and T3. The original design concept has been maintained in the final building and replies to the complex and extensive requirements of the specification, organizing activity within three buildings. The Terminal Building is characterized by three lineal modules (Check-in spine, processing spine, Pier), and serves different functions according to the passengers flow.