most beautiful airport terminals

This is a list of the worlds most beautiful airport terminals, based upon architectural merit rather than crude size, high tech bravado or structural gymnastics. For that reason the beautifully simple Dalaman terminal in Turkey makes the list, for example, but the design compromised Heathrow Terminal Five, does not. Vote for your faves.


Posted by David Galbraith

 
Stanstead has become the prototype for many of the worlds airport designs, its forest of high tech trees being copied more of less exactly in dozens of other terminals. But the real genius of Stanstead was that it brought back the romance of the early days of flight when terminals were free of of the barriers that prevent you from seeing the planes themselves. Foster did this by putting as much of the dross as possible, in the caverns below the main concourse.
Saarinen’s TWA terminal at JFK was the first airport terminal to rise to the level of an undisputed architectural masterpiece. Not only is its design unsurpassed, today, it is also still laregly uncopied, despite it fame.

The TWA terminal doesn’t go for obvious structural metaphors of flight via criss-crossing diagonal tension wires, strut like supports and floating ribbed wing roofs. Since these elements of today’s signature airport architecture come from the engineering used to make early 20th century biplanes, Saarinen’s organic double curved shapes, the same shapes used in today’s computer aided transportation design, now appear far more modern than the high tech style.

Dulles airport combines the sculptural design flair of Saarinens TWA terminal with the diagrammatic simplicity that Stanstead is based on: a land and air side on one level, glass on both sides and a straight line between them. It is the world’s best airport terminal.
Beijing airport may be vast and impressive, but what is truly impressive is that over such a vast scale the design manages to spread without it appearing that the details have been overlooked.
Terminal 4 at Madrid Airport was designed by Norman Foster’s former buisness Partner, Richard Rogers. Rogers is a more urbane and gregarious character than Foster, even if his design and business skills are not as honed, but as such the building produced by the people at his firm, are more varied and often more interesting. Barajas Airport is one of the more interesting ones, the sloppy executed Heathrow Terminal Five, which was done in conjunction with ‘project architects’ Pascall and Watson, is not.
Kansai Aiport in Osaka Bay, was Richard Roger’s partner on the Beaubourg Center, Renzo Piano’s chance to design a monster big airport terminal, sealing airports as the domain of 80s style high tech. architects. Its a mammoth piece of engineering, and the end result is pretty good, if not quite as polished as the Foster jobbies. On the other hand, Foster’s New York tower for Hearst, is not as accomplished as Piano’s lovely new New York Times building.
Calatrava sometimes produces beautiful engineering rather than beautiful architecture, the emphasis being on the aesthetics of the structure, rather than the space, but Bilbao Airport shows a competent mix of the two.
At first glance Denver looks like a modern architecture version of a bedouin encampment, something that you might see at an airport in the Arab Emirates. But the Teflon coated pyramid shaped tent canopies are references to the white capped mountains behind. The effect is great.
Changi Airport is designed by the firm, SOM, that were the original inspiration for what became the style that has dominated airport design in the last 20 years, when they were led by the legendary Bruce Graham. Designer of some of the worlds most famous airports, Norman Foster, brought the SOM style back to Europe and then exported it to the rest of the world.

What makes Terminal 3 at Changi, which opened in 2008, interesting is that it marks a break from recent airport design, using rectilinear shapes and combining fabricated elements with natural textures.

This is an architects piece of architecture, a subtle classic with all the refined simplicity of a Mies van der Rohe box, rather than a willful aerofoil roof with fancy splayed supports.
Kuala Lumpur is a shamefaced rip off of Stanstead airport, but it does have its moments. Such as the pinhole lighting which sparkles off the floor in this great view.
Charles De Gaulle is oe of the few airports in the world where a village of different terminal buildings, built in different times and in different styles have been brought together as a coherent whole. The orginal terminal one, with its criss crossing escalator tubes within a central atrium, is the real world version of Disneyland’s original Tomorrowland.
Hong Kong airport was Foster’s chance to perfect the prototype high tech airport that he had designed at Stanstead, and at a much bigger scale. The only problem that such a pristine form of white on gray architecture faces is that the humid climate isn’t kind to the exterior envelope of this type of building which, like a sports car, looks better when it is gleaming new, or a well looked after vintage piece.
With its enormous vaulted courtyard, Munich airport manages to bring back some of the drama of a Victorian railroad terminus. This is something that many airport designers have tried and failed to carry off, here it works.
Although not all of the design of South Korea’s Incheon airport is that remarkable, the 22 floor high control tower with its giant hall underneath is extremely impressive.

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