The COVID-19 pandemic has been quite challenging for air travel and has highlighted outdated airport design and practices.
The past few years have generated enormous change in our day-to-day lives and architecture is matching these advancements. We are witnessing the birth of new technologies and architectural design that is already improving operational efficiency and flexibility while keeping passengers’ health, safety and freedom top priorities.
The airport of the future is being designed now.
One significant challenge that U.S. airports are facing post-pandemic is how to expand. One of the solutions is to retrofit, modernize and broaden existing airports to be more sustainable and environmentally responsible.
An integral part of the process is learning and experiencing what makes the airport’s region unique. What values set it apart? Before developing an airport design, living, knowing and understanding the community is essential.
Experiencing and inhabiting everything that makes a community unique is the first step in the design process and fulfilling clients’ needs.
The architect must embrace innovation, effectively integrate the space into its surroundings and mirror each specific community. This will ensure the user experience is excellent, seamless and the airport will become the main gateway to the region and city, with design able to leave a positive and lasting memory in every traveller.
Both as a result of the coronavirus and just innovation in general, we’ve grown accustomed to digital tools that provide additional layers of safety/security. These security and public health-related systems are becoming the norm in airports.
Airports need to transition to incorporate new government-sponsored technology systems that screen passengers for illnesses like temperature gauges, along with ample space to adhere to social distancing guidelines that remain in place.
In addition to health innovations, updates to existing thermal imaging applications include new machines that are quiet and less visible. Ongoing digitization requires architects to include new security and recreational features in virtually any design project.
Because new technologies and tracking methods are still being developed, designs must be flexible – maximizing square footage while providing travellers a feeling of space, cleanliness and safety. A flexible space must adapt to different functions, uses and intensities, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Another challenge, and perhaps the greatest, is climate change. A sustainable airport of the future must be safe, recognizable, resourceful, sleek, dynamic and forward-thinking. It needs to be flexible to accommodate rapidly changing conditions and unexpected threats while helping to tell a region’s cultural and geographic story.
Travel now requires high-grade air quality, incorporating advancements in technology and architecture that allow optimal airflow and enough room for travellers to maintain comfortable distances.
Access to outdoor space is an increasingly sought-after amenity in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, becoming a vital component for passenger comfort and well-being.
Another aspect of sustainability includes future construction projects reusing waste.
For example, Pittsburgh International Airport’s new Terminal Modernization project, which luis vidal + architects worked on in association with Gensler and HDR, includes recycling or reusing at least three-quarters of construction waste, including concrete from current airfield ramps that will be reused for new roads.
The Pittsburgh Terminal project consists of another design advancement focused on sustainability. It’s the first airport to be independently powered by a microgrid, featuring thousands of solar panels and five natural gas generators fuelled by onsite wells capable of creating over 20 megawatts of electricity.
The purpose of architecture is to improve the quality of life. Through our work at luis vidal + architects, we’ve seen just how crucial thoughtful design is when creating the “airport of the future.” In this decade, we are presented with the opportunity to substantially improve how society inhabits, occupies and uses the planet.
If we can meet challenges responsibly, a better, brighter and more interconnected future awaits us. In it, we’ll have answered the pressing questions of the present, including those posed by the once-in-a-century pandemic.
Luis Vidal is president and founding partner of luis vidal + architects. Send Industry Perspectives Op-Ed comments and column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.