Architecture On The Fly

As gateways to a new destination, international airports are much more than just buildings devoted to functionality. They serve as heralds to a new culture, a new set of experiences and a world away from home. And fittingly, the world’s most renowned architects are called in to design these monuments to development and human evolution. In an attempt to piece together what nations try to evoke with the traveller’s first step onto alien soil, EXEC takes a look at the world’s most architecturally elegant international airport terminals

The Hajj Terminal, King Abdulaziz International Airport
King Abdulaziz International Airport (KAIA) is known the world over for one feature – the Hajj Terminal. Designed to accommodate the thousands of pilgrims that make their way to Mecca every year, the terminal is composed of 105 fibre-class coated fabric tents, that help keep the space lit, while reflecting away much of the desert heat. According to professor Horst Berger, “Stepping from the heat of the desert sun into the shade of the Haj Terminal roof is similar to entering the pleasant atmosphere of a giant forest.” The terminal is also noted for its low carbon print, exceptional baggage handling capacity and for having the largest roof in the world.

Suvarnabhumi International Airport
The long, almost tubular construction of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport makes for decidedly spectacular photographs. Viewed from the outside, the terminal building looks like a pair of giant, canine-filled jaws, clamped together, or better yet, like a huge, sugar-frosted soft roll. On the inside, expect plenty of natural light and interiors that alternate between rich colour and stark modernity.

Terminal 4, Madrid Barajas
In terms of building area, Terminal 4 ranks as one of the largest airport terminals in the world, but what is most remarkable about Terminal 4 is how it attempts of stay far-removed from the typical ‘glass and steel’ box of most airports. The structure, designed by Antonio Lamela and Richard Rogers, is intended to create a stress-free, relaxed environment by utilizing glass panels that let in enormous amounts of light. Added to this are plenty of sweeping curves and undulations, which create an atmosphere reminiscent of the ease, and fluidity, of flight.

Fairbanks International Airport
Evoking the frontier spirit and the great forests of Alaska, Fairbanks new terminal building uses a great deal of timber both as a structural material and for façade construction. The interiors incorporate a whole lot of metal, stone and concrete to give the building a neo-rustic feel to it, while the four vestibules that provide road access are built using orange glass, giving the entire place an elegant, ‘fireside’ glow.

Carrasco International Airport
Inspired by the miles of sand dunes along the Uruguayan coast, architect Rafael Viñoly placed a 1200 foot-long, unbroken shell along the terminal’s roof. Step inside the airport and the first thing you’ll notice is that the fixtureless ceiling appears to hover over the entire building, with white up lights enhancing this effect and evenly illuminating the entire hall. Resembling a whale’s upper lip, the shell is Carassco’s single most distinguishing feature. With smooth lines and expansive terraces, the whole airport feels like a modern take on aviation’s golden era in the 1960’s, when flying was known for being glamorous and glitzy, instead of the tiring grind that it is today.

Marrakech-Menara Airport Extension
The terminal extension at Marrakech Airport represents a marriage between traditional Islamic and modern architecture, with oodles of technology thrown in for good measure. The walls and ceiling are composed of concrete rhombuses that frame delicately carved Arabesque screens which in turn cast an ever changing pattern of shadows through out the building’s interior. The roof houses a series of glass pyramids that are covered with solar panels in a geometric pattern that calls to mind typically Islamic motifs, making for a seamlessly decorative assembly that also reduces the terminal’s dependence on conventional energy.

Denver International Airport
Like an encampment of larger-than-life tents, the Denver International airport’s Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric roof is a treat to look at, from both on the ground and in the sky. This construction may resemble the Hajj terminal, but throws out a far more imposing presence, particularly when framed against the majestic Rocky Mountains behind it.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Described by the architect as ‘an airport in a forest’, KLIA incorporates an aluminium ceiling with a wood façade peppered with downlights to give travelers the feeling of being under a sharply angled wooden canopy that evokes a starry sky. Fuelling the traveller’s wonder and imagination is the fact that the terminal is interspersed with Islamic domes and lush greenery, including a small waterfall.

Prince George Airport, Georgia
Much like Fairbanks Airport, the interiors at Prince George are dedicated towards creating a sense of warmth and intimacy, with maple and fir used largely through the building. While the airport is conventional in many ways, the elegant simplicity of the structure that combines regional elements with a profound sense of functionality and modernity is what gives Prince George Airport a place on this list.

Kansai International Airport
Built on a manmade island, Kansai International Airport is a tribute to Japanese engineering technology. The terminal here is a behemoth glass and steel tube that stretched over a two-mile distance. And though its detractors say it is little more than an extended plane fuselage, the terminal is infinitely more complex. A short walk up to the third level will give you a glimpse of the building’s superstructure, a symphony of lattices and load-bearing grids.

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