Lonely Planet Writer

Beautiful airports of the future as imagined by award-winning design students

As all well-seasoned frequent travellers will attest to, airports - except perhaps the worst ones - all begin to look the same. But what if you can start from scratch and design a truly beautiful airport? One school took up the challenge with incredible results.


Students from North Carolina State College of Design regularly work on airport projects in the college’s dedicated airport studio, with some help from top architects. This year, five designs were displayed at this year’s Venice Biennale and even won a prestigious award.

In keeping with the Biennale’s global feel, five international airports were chosen; one each for China, Iran, Madagascar, Brazil and New Zealand. The groups got to pick the places themselves, then went on a deep dive to understand the relevant culture, geography and economy of the destinations to reflect those in the design.


The new style of airports are designed to be as much community spaces as transport hubs. The Madagascar airport has brought a lot of the island’s natural environment to travellers, while the team behind Brazil’s imaginative new airport aimed to try and bridge the gap between rich and poor in the country.

The plans for Shiraz turn the normal concept of airport design on its head. Usually, airports are a sprawling collection of buildings and runways far away from the cities they’re named after. Instead, they imagined a tall tower in the middle of the city (and what would be the best commute to the airport ever).


Two main features weighed heavily on the students’ minds while designing their airports; speed and sustainability. There was plenty of emphasis in the plans for expansion and many designers incorporated beautiful green areas as a core part of their building. One design even drew up renderings for a zip-line pod to help passengers get around the airport more quickly.

Video was also an important feature of the project, something airport designers say they can’t get a job without providing first. It also allows the designers to provide extra details that can’t be conveyed in renderings.

You can explore the airport design projects in more detail here.