Airport City of Tomorrow – Planning the airport for the human dimension

Cover image: Oslo Airport City (Norway). Credit: Haptic Architects.

We all know that technology will play a large role in defining the Airport of the Future. But from a socio-economic perspective, how do we see airports evolving in the next 5-15 years? Let´s have a look at the past, present and future of the Airport City.

How Airport Cities developed

The traditional Airport City​ was introduced in the ’60s​. Its focus was to combine aviation and non-aviation use of airport land, including offices, retail, hotels and logistics​ centres. This mixed-use concept derived from the interest in developing land as a purely economic driver.

Today, Airport Cities fulfil an integrated hub function with landside intermodal accessibility. They are designed to seize economic potential, resulting in land development for buildings and infrastructure​. As a result, public spaces have low priority. This creates challenges like:

  1. Lack of quality public spaces to meet​ and relax;
  2. Lack of spaces to stimulate spontaneous interaction​;
  3. Unbalanced transit system ​- where landside infrastructure is unnecessarily car-focused, instead of pedestrian-focused;
  4. Lack of opportunities to engage with the outdoor environment.

Our view on Airport City development

AirportCreators’ new perspective on Airport City development has as the main driver:

“To plan the airports of tomorrow for the human dimension.”

Good examples of this philosophy include Lelystad Airport’s new terminal (Netherlands), Oslo Airport City (Norway) and Changi Airport Jewel (Singapore). Several key characteristics of these examples of human-scaled airport design are:

The Airport City at eye level​: The added value of the airport has changed for passengers, now that low-cost airlines have made air travel a commodity. This means that the use of simpler eye-level structures may be more suited to fulfil the functionality of today’s airport. Lelystad Airport terminal has been designed to be compact and highly efficient, with an airport passenger journey of 20 minutes. AirportCreators assisted this airport development with defining the key functional principles on which the terminal design should be based.

Figure 1: Lelystad Airport’s new terminal (Netherlands). Credit: Paul de Ruiter Architects.

Pedestrian-centric spaces: Cities are not solely economic structures, ​and arguably, neither are airports. Liveability is created by means of social, cultural and economic integration. A good example of a pedestrian-focused space is the Oslo Airport City development (Norway). Located next to the busiest international airport in Norway, this new sustainable city is being built from scratch and will include public parks, recreational facilities, event spaces, restaurants, offices and hotels. Furthermore, by focusing on walkability and incorporating smart transport systems, the need for car ownership will be reduced and the city centre made car-free. With cars being less dominant, the vibrant greenery and landscaping will invite people to spend more time in the public spaces and interact with each other.

Figure 2: Oslo Airport City’s new pedestrian-centric spaces (Norway). Credit: Haptic Architects

Pedestrian centric spaces can support a business case and add value via their commercial programme and parking services. Changi Airport Jewel achieves this with a big public space that has no direct aviation purpose​, by focusing on creating attractive spaces to spend time​. Meanwhile, underneath the rainforest-themed park, the building houses a public transit hub, a vast retail programme and a sizeable parking facility. This further exemplifies that creating attractive pedestrian-centric spaces does not need to conflict with accommodating core functionalities.

“By drawing both visitors and local residents alike, we aim to create a place where the people of Singapore interact with the people of the world”​ – Moshe Safide, Lead Architect​.

Figure 3: Changi Airport Jewel (Singapore). Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Figure 4: Changi Airport Jewel plan and section diagram (Singapore). Credit: Safide Architects.

Ultimately, we would like to challenge airports to create and maintain vibrant spaces for their passengers; spaces that can be explored throughout the passenger journey and invite them to interact with other people as well as with their surrounding environment.

By Emma Hernandez

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