Airports of the future

Transport architect Mark Wolfe explains how the modern airport is evolving and why airports of the future will resemble a multi-nodal city. Plus, a look at travel agents’ favourite airports

The modern airport is no longer just a place to catch a plane, but also a destination in its own right and a catalyst for future economic competitiveness.

Functionally, very little has changed. Processes of dealing with passengers and bags remain largely the same but have become automated as technology has developed. However, I suspect that newer technologies will see some of these processes disappear completely in the next five to 10 years.

Airports are becoming more diverse and activated by other non-aviation uses, and the future airport will likely become a new transport-orientated precinct of a modern multi-nodal city.

For example, Frankfurt’s ambitious Airport City vision involved the development of the inter-modal property, The Squaire. In 2012, international financial services giant KPMG moved its European headquarters into a 40,000m2 space at The Squaire. KPMG already had an existing office in the UK near to London City Airport and a big office in the Netherlands close to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

The other obvious difference today is driven by security. In existing airports and terminals, more onerous security requirements have impacted operations and physical space – older terminals didn’t have to consider modern screening technologies.

It’s clear that consideration of the passenger experience has resulted in a different design approach, not just in the terminal. For the Terminal 4 project at Melbourne Airport, one of the key drivers was passenger safety, so we designed a pedestrianised precinct that eliminated vehicles, and ground transport was dealt with in the lower levels of the multilevel car park.

Why change is necessary
Change is necessary because the aviation business is a dynamic one. It is a marginal business that can be impacted by a range of factors from the price of oil to climatic events such as ash clouds. As such, there has been continuous pressure from airlines for airports to reduce charges and those airports have also needed to investigate other non-aeronautical revenue opportunities.

Originally, airports were purely and simply about catching a plane. Retail was then introduced as another revenue stream. As the aeronautical business remains fairly stable, airport owners and operators are looking for new revenue streams. The airport as a transport oriented precinct of a modern multi-nodal city is the logical next step in the evolution of the airport.

While airports traditionally had to consider only people moving from the carpark or train to the terminal, in a more diverse precinct that might contain commercial offices. For instance, we need to think about an employee going from the carpark via the crèche to the office, to a nearby gym at lunch time and maybe even to the terminal to do some shopping.

That translates into the need to think outside traditional car-based journeys and consider a variety of movement and connection systems that include walking and cycle sharing, for instance.

Who stands out today?
Some of the larger airport hubs in Asia such as Singapore’s Changi (see below), Hong Kong International Airport and Incheon in South Korea stand out, as do Frankfurt airport in Germany and Schipol in the Netherlands.

The key points are connectivity and a diverse range of facilities – everything from retail outlets and restaurants to cinemas, gardens, recreation facilities and playgrounds. And they are really pushing for the idea of the airport as a destination in its own right. In Singapore, many locals will spend time at Changi even if they are not boarding a flight.

I think our design for the new Terminal 4 at Melbourne is also a good example of a terminal designed to suit the industry at this point in time. It is not an architectural statement but a modest, flexible terminal building with 100 per cent self-service check-in concourse and a diverse retail, food and beverage offers that showcase a range of local brands.

Mark Wolfe is principal at Hassell, a global design practice with a strong portfolio of  projects in the travel and tourism industry, including airports, convention centres, hotels and transforming precincts.


Changi’s prized Jewel

Picture by Jewel Changi Airport DevtCome early 2019, the debut of the Jewel Changi Airport will see the launch of an impressive steel-and-glass architecture integrating airport facilities, retail and leisure outlets, and a hotel, further cementing Changi’s reputation as one of the world’s best aviation hubs and positioning itself as a key player amid intensifying global competition.

The glass-and-steel complex will feature five storeys above ground and five basement levels, with a 134,000m2 gross floor area that will be used for retail, airport operations, attractions and a hotel. Centrepiece attractions will be a 40m-high waterfall within a lush five-storey indoor garden.

Philip Yim, CEO of Jewel Changi Airport Development, is confident that Jewel’s distinctive dome-shaped facade will make it an “iconic landmark and signature destination”, drawing international travellers to visit Changi Airport and Singapore, and boosting Singapore’s appeal as a stopover point for travellers.

“The concept for Jewel’s design stems from an extension of Singapore’s reputation as a City in a Garden. It is also a juxtaposition where a park and a marketplace are situated side by side,” said Yim.

When completed, Jewel will connect the three existing terminals and Changi Airport MRT. There will be facilities dedicated to the fly-cruise and fly-coach passenger segments to smoothen the travel experience.

Meanwhile, the new Terminal 4 will be completed in 2017 while Terminal 1 will also be expanded to allow more space for the arrival hall, baggage claim areas and taxi bays. – Paige Lee Pei Qi






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