For the architecture or sci-fi geek, there’s nothing like the thrill of transiting through or arriving into an airport that’s designed for style as well as substance. Here are ten breathtaking visions of the future that everyone with an affinity for technological innovation should have on their bucket list.
Istanbul Airport (Turkey)
Word has it that the newly-opened Istanbul Airport will be bigger than Manhattan when it’s fully completed in 2027. The architects responsible are London-based Grimshaw (the firm founded by modernist legend Sir Nicholas Grimshaw) in collaboration with Haptic and Nordic, the firm responsible for the masterplan for the new Oslo Airport, which will be the first energy positive airport city in the world. The layout is inspired by Istanbul’s history and culture, with a control tower that looks like a tulip (Turkey’s national flower) and a main transit hall that pays homage to the configuration of the Strait of Bosphorus.
Ramon International Airport (Israel)
Located in the Negev desert outside Eilat, this ultra-modern airport, which opened last year (with its interior courtyards, floor to ceiling windows and white aluminium panelled exterior reflecting the intense heat of the desert sun) has been likened to a mirage. Because of the extreme climate conditions, construction often started after dark, illuminated by floodlights.
Beijing Daxing International Airport (China)
Beijing not only boasts two airports, but its newest is the largest single-structured one in the world, at an incredible 7.5 million square foot. Designed by the late Zaha Hadid, the starfish-shaped terminal is both aesthetically interesting and efficient, with a flexible floorplan than can be adapted depending on traffic volume. Passengers will only have to walk a maximum of eight minutes to reach any part of the airport. The airport hopes to become the largest and busiest in the world, with an eventual capacity of 100 million passengers each year. It will also have seven runways, plus a high-speed rail connection to the city and a new motorway network.
Tocumen International Airport (Panama)
Another new Norman Foster-designed airport is Tocumen in Panama, which opened last year and has been likened to an alien spaceship. The sleek edifice is intended to mirror the Panamanian landscape and bring the country’s lush scenery indoors. At the heart of the hangar is a vibrant garden, planted with flora from Panama’s tropical forests.
Singapore Changi Airport (Singapore)
Singapore’s Changi Airport is the most important hub in Asia , and last year saw the opening of The Jewel, its new nature-themed retail and entertainment complex, designed by Safdie Architects. You could happily wile away a few hours between flights here, but The Jewel is also proving popular with local residents who come to hang out at weekends, admire the world’s tallest indoor waterfall thundering down from the top of the structure’s steel dome and explore the Rain Vortex, the centrepiece of the Shiseido Forest Valley, a five-story greenhouse of living walls.
On the upper level is Canopy Park, a 13,000-square-meter complex of gardens, walking trails, playgrounds, and animal topiary. Work has commenced on the airport’s new Terminal 5, which is scheduled to open in the mid-2020s and will have a capacity of 50 million passengers annually.
Kuwait International Airport (Kuwait)
Norman Foster won the contract for the state-of-the-art Kuwait International Airport terminal, due to open later this year. Kuwait is one of the hottest and most inhospitable climates in the world, so the airport structure features special skylights that will both brighten the halls and deflect direct radiation. Also planned is a roof covered in solar panels to conserve energy, and towering concrete columns that look like traditional dhow sailboats. Foster hopes his design will achieve LEED Gold standing; making it the first terminal in the world to do so.
Chicago O'Hare International Airport (Illinois)
Due to open in 2021, the $8.5 billion extension to Chicago’s O’Hare airport will add ten gates located off a concourse, at the heart of which is a soaring atrium filled with plants. The architects responsible for the skeletal façade contoured like the Chicago River are Studio Gang, founded by Illinois native Jeanne Gang, with offices in New York, San Francisco and Chicago, who won the competition to design the airport over other more famous architectural practices including those of Santiago Calatrava and Norman Foster.
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (Louisiana)
New Orleans’ new terminal, designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, cost $1.1 billion to build and features three concourses, 35 gates, and a three-story atrium with a performance space for live jazz. The design is inspired by the geography of NOLA, with curving canopies, glass walls, and terrazzo floors depicting the twists and turns of the Mississippi River Delta.
Berlin Brandenburg, Germany
Originally scheduled to open in 2012, it now looks as if Berlin’s €6 billion Brandenburg airport will open later this year, or perhaps in 2021. Astoundingly the airport had to be re-designed curing the construction phase because the original design by architect Meinhard von Gerkan did not include enough shops. Apparently the architect is no fan of retail therapy, and chose to ignore the fact that up to 50% of the revenue of any airport comes from its retail dimension. The project has been beset by other problems and, virtually complete, has operated as a ghost terminal for the past few years while these are resolved; when it does eventually open it will be a large modern terminal with two runways and will combine the operations of Berlin’s two existing airports.
Madrid-Barajas Airport Terminal Four (Spain)
Although Richard Rogers designed Terminal Four almost two decades ago, it’s notable for being one of the first airports that really pushed boundaries in terms of design. Rogers won the Stirling Prize in 2006 and numerous other accolades for his joyful and exuberant vision with its undulating wooden ceiling supported by a forest of rainbow-coloured trees. There are no banal details here – even the lights and air conditioning vents look like sculptures.