Is being ‘environmentally friendly’ a major issue for architects when designing an airport terminal?
I think it is, and it is only becoming more so. We’ve watched all but two of the ACI regions adopt Airport Carbon Accreditation and the feeling is the last two regions, including North America, will adopt this programme in 2014 or no later than 2015. Being sustainable and working for carbon neutrality is becoming a very big issue for many airports around the world.
What are the trends driving terminal design today?
The prime trends I’m experiencing today are, not necessarily in this order:
(i) Non-aeronautical revenue generation (concessions): airports are needing to rely more and more on revenue that does not come directly from the air carriers to make ends meet and to maintain their facilities.
(ii) Customer service: Sometimes it’s a battle of how you handle low-cost carriers and legacy carriers in the same facility, but customer service varies greatly from airport to airport. At the end of the day how a passenger feels about an airport does have influence on which carrier they fly and where they fly from when they have options.
(iii) Security: Still a big space requirement that can vary greatly as newer technology becomes available. Unlike many electronic systems, security technology for airports does not always get smaller as it improves.
(iv) Baggage systems: Not only do they require a lot of space but how they work many times defines how passengers are allowed to check-in and where they can check-in.
(v) Technology and the bandwidth to support it: Everything requires bandwidth. The customer, back-of-house, security firms, airlines, and now even aircraft.
(vi) Airlines: Many airports, due to airline agreements, need airline approval for capital improvements. This is allowing airlines to have a significant say in what the terminal design is and more importantly
how much it costs.
Does bigger necessarily mean better?
I don’t believe it does. In fact, except for areas allocated to security and baggage, some parts of airport terminals should be shrinking, specifically the ticketing and check-in wing. Technology has almost eliminated the need for a dedicated ticketing and check-in facility. Certainly the larger volume of space, the more energy it takes to run it. That’s without the cost of cleaning and maintaining the facility. Some terminals have become so large and so volumetric that the inside air quality starts to resemble the outside air quality. How many times do you go into a fantastically volumetric new terminal building with expertly designed architectural and theatrical lighting only to find a few years later that many of those lights are no longer working because it is too difficult or too costly to replace lighting that is not easily reachable without construction scaffolding?
Do you think airport terminals will look very different to today in 20 years time?
Perhaps. New terminals are not built every day and when they are they typically have a 40 to 60 year lifespan before demolition or major remodelling. While the interior use of space may be modified several times during this period, I don’t believe we will see anything really new. Part of this is because the airport is still primarily designed around the number of aircraft you have to have contact with during the projected peak hour. That defines your concourse and that traffic, in turn, helps define your ‘head house’ or landside terminal building. Now if we see the combination of traditional aircraft with low orbital aircraft, like we are seeing at spaceports, then we may see something new, but as long as aircraft have a long cylindrical fuselage with two wings and a tail, I expect no exceptional changes.
Is it possible to say how many airport projects you’ve been involved in over the years and the key lessons you’ve learned from this portfolio of work?
I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that particular question, and I’d have to say I’ve been involved in around 250 to 300 airport projects thus far. You have to remember that I learned my craft on the airline side of the business, so in any year I was touching projects at anywhere from 10 to 20 airports a year.
Regarding key lessons learned I try to remember the following:
– There are traditionally three sets of needs: the airport, the airlines, and the customer needs. Sometimes these align and sometimes they do not.
– Don’t force it. What does it want to be? That was always my mantra as a terminal architect. Don’t go in with a pre-set idea. Determine the need, and then let the need define the design and not some predetermined vision. In the end it will be a better design and generally save you money.
– Many airports all have the same basic needs and design requirements. However, every airport is different. Start with a blank sheet of paper.
– Don’t cheat on the landside kerb. You will need every bit of length you can get.
– Give yourself double the room you think you need at security screening. It has not grown smaller but just the opposite.
– Challenge traditional thinking. As humans we seem to be wired to recreate the same thing over and over. Why are airport terminals so volumetric? Is it because train stations were? Trains pulled into train stations (train sheds). With some exceptions aircraft do not pull into the terminal or concourses.
– Make it easy. There is something about entering an airport that causes a lot of people confusion. Help them through the process by providing overt visual cues without a lot of signage clutter.
– Get baggage from passengers as soon as possible in their journey. It clears up clutter and aids passive security screening.
– Provide for wheelchair storage immediately near the passenger boarding bridges. Full-sized wheelchairs stored in traditional boarding bridges are a hazard and can be a life-safety challenge when the full-width of a boarding bridge is constrained during an aircraft evacuation at the gate.
– Don’t forget the cost of operations and maintenance. This cost will eclipse the capital cost of the facility and those charged with that will thank you for it.
Why did you agree to become chairman of ACI’s World Business Partners?
I believe the aviation industry is the backbone of the global economy and something the world geo-political clout is riding on. Without the ability to move from place to place rapidly, to reach the city-states around the world, this fast moving global economy could not be. It cannot be done by the internet alone.
There is so much potential for those of us involved in the aviation industry to help affect and at some times change how the world works.
I believe we are now at a time where cities, regions, countries are just now beginning to see the power of their airports, and I want to be a part of growing that, of helping cities and regions develop and grow their traffic and take their place on the world stage.
What would you say to companies considering becoming WBPs?
Like many things you reap what you sow. I tell people that if you sit around and wait for things to happen to you, they will, but if you get out and lead you can define what happens to you. Being involved in the WBP programme is a way to collaborate with key industry leaders on the airline side as well as the airport side. It is a way to speak directly to your current and future clients. It is a way to be seen as an expert, to make presentations to your peers and industry, to write technical papers on events challenging our industry today and a way to network that is not available anywhere else.
What does Twitter offer you that more traditional communication channels don’t?
The biggest thing that Twitter offers me is the ability to quickly get things out there in a very few amount of words. In fact, that is probably the biggest benefit and challenge all rolled into one. I love the few words when I’m reading them; it makes it very fast. When I’m composing tweets it’s quite the challenge. Perhaps if I was tweeting my responses here, this would be a much shorter column.