Future of Airport and Hotel Design
Designing airports and hotels of the future
by Amy Westervelt October 2008
Improved design at airports and hotels promises to create a more positive experience for business travelers.
Supersize new terminals that somehow manage to reduce the amount of time you spend getting from point A to point B, futuristic travel pods that whiz you between the parking lot and terminal, hotels with comfortable work areas and slickly designed meeting lounges—these are just a few of the design perks business travelers can look forward to in coming years, as airlines and hotels compete for their business and airports ready themselves for the arrival of the Airbus 380 and Boeing Dreamliner 787.
Thanks to rising fuel costs and the credit crunch, travel has become somewhat of a luxury again, and that’s probably a good thing for business travelers. As more and more U.S. economy travelers opt to stay closer to home, American airlines and hotels are competing more fiercely than ever for the attention of business travelers. Meanwhile, international airports are growing to accommodate increased travel from countries such as China and India, and terminals around the world are expanding to accommodate the Airbus 380 and Dreamliner. Fortunately, the architects and interior designers tapped to design new terminals and hotel lobbies are using their skills not to win awards or create slick spreads in magazines, but to eliminate wasted time and deliver business travelers to meetings feeling rested and ready.
Air Travel Gets Streamlined
Although terminals may be getting bigger, travelers won’t need to waste time walking from one end of a mammoth terminal to another. For the most part, airports have taken the fact that they need to add new terminals or renovate older ones to improve on the design of those spaces, simplifying and shortening the traveler’s path from the parking lot to the check-in counter to the gate.
At London Heathrow’s new British Airways Terminal 5, passengers hop into an electric pod in the airport parking lot, which deposits them at check-in. Six underground platforms for the Piccadilly Line of the Tube are located directly below the terminal. Also at Heathrow, Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class Wing in Terminal 3 promises business travelers will go from limo to lounge in less than 10 minutes, due to the carrier’s centrally located “terminal within the terminal,” fitted out with dozens of well-staffed check-in podiums to speed up the process
Beijing’s new Norman Foster–designed Terminal 3 includes a massive baggage area capable of processing 19,000 bags an hour, all but eliminating the wait for baggage at the end of a long journey. Security areas are a short walk from the check-in counter, and terminals are doubling and tripling the usual number of security lanes in order to move travelers more quickly through the screening area.
At the new British Airways terminal at JFK, 20 security lanes ensure that passengers rarely need to wait long to get through. “We wanted to eliminate as best we can any sense of dread associated with traveling,” explains Michel Freichter, who led the design of the terminal for TPG Architects.
At Singapore’s Changi Airport, JetQuay offers a whole separate terminal catering to those who wish to streamline their travel experience. The members-only club provides a standalone facility next to Terminal 2 that caters to CIPs, defined as “commercially important persons.” JetQuay members traveling on any airline have a similar terminal experience to those traveling on private jets. In addition to access to a separate driveway, dedicated check-in, customs and immigration and security areas, members have access to a lounge with PCs, Wi-Fi and private meeting areas available, as well as a gym with showers and a nap room where attendants will wake you up in time for your flight. Electric pods similar to those at Heathrow then shuttle passengers to their gates.
Back at JFK, designers have included a larger-than-average number of check-in podiums to limit the wait and British Airways puts an emphasis on staffing the check-in zone to move passengers through as quickly and painlessly as possible. “If you ever do have to wait, you’ll have a comfortable seat and a drink,” Freichter says.
Within waiting areas at JFK, Freichter says, every effort has been made to limit the amount of time travelers spend looking for a place to settle in. Outlets are placed in every conceivable spot to ensure that business travelers won’t be stuck sitting on the floor charging cell phones or laptops. “The proportionate amount of area has really been considered, so you’re never waiting too long for a touch-down spot. You can be guaranteed that you will have somewhere to sit down and somewhere to charge your phone and laptop.”
Moving seamlessly from check-in to a comfortable chair that has an outlet within reach may only shave a minute or two off your airport downtime, but you’ll be amazed at what something simple like having a place to sit and an outlet to plug into will do to your travel-induced stress level.
Comfort and Convenience Reign
Comfortable seats and lounge-like amenities will increasingly become part of a business traveler’s experience, as more than a dozen new terminals open over the next two years.
“The terminal is becoming more like the lounge in a grand hotel,” says Anthony Deen, design director of the retail studio for TPG Architects. “You go in and have a cup of tea or coffee or a glass of wine, and it’s a social environment, with people standing or sitting together. It really creates a palpable change in experience for someone taking a flight—it’s not just about going to the gate and sitting there until the plane is ready.”
Architects like Deen are also making an effort to design meeting spaces within airport terminals where business travelers can meet up before or between flights.
At JFK, Deen says his team made it a priority to place business-meeting lounges on the air side of the terminal. “There’s really a need for it in situations when business partners are taking different flights at different terminals, and they really need a place to meet before they head off on their separate ways,” he says.
Similarly, business and extended-stay hotels are designing more comfortable meeting spaces and pleasant restaurants in an effort to satisfy all the business traveler’s needs in one space. The first Palihouse, a new line of extended-stay hotels geared at business travelers with a penchant for design, opened in early 2008 in West Hollywood. The designers made a point of including comfortable, casual lounge areas suitable for small meetings, but without the formality of a separate meeting room. Accor is also launching its line of upscale business hotels stateside with an emphasis on “work lounges” in lobbies—complete with comfortable couches and free, high-speed Wi-Fi—and “office corners” in rooms with Web cameras and docking stations for a range of electronics.
Wyndham, meanwhile, has partnered with product designer Michael Graves to develop a handful of fresh new designs for its rooms, all geared toward improving the business traveler’s stay. The most exciting result of the partnership is the Wyndham Smart Chair, a combination lounge/work chair that features a built-in power source and an Internet port.
According to Jessica Soklow, a spokeswoman for the American Hotel and Lodging Association, hotels are responding to guest requests for more comfortable workspaces, but part of the design is also geared towards capturing the attention of Gen-X business travelers. “Business travelers are eating and entertaining clients in the hotel more and more, and hotels have responded by trying to become much hipper, designing cooler bars and restaurants, and bringing in VIP chefs,” she says.
Even the check-in experience at hotels is shifting to cater to business travelers. Self-service check-in podiums effectively eliminate the need to wait in line, engage in small talk with the front-desk staff, suffer through a long-winded explanation of where your room is or wait as they check your reservation and copy your credit card. You’re in the front door and up to your room in minutes.
The Benefits of Green
Green building isn’t just about using efficient air-conditioning systems and feeling good about the environment. Today’s “green” design mavericks are creating exciting, comfortable places travelers will want to return to, with the added bonus that they happen to go easier on the environment, too. Buildings win points with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for maximizing fresh air and daylight, two elements that make any traveler’s experience within a hotel or air terminal healthier.
Accordingly, most new terminals include advanced mechanical systems to increase the circulation of fresh air, as well as large windows that maximize daylight, and gardens planted throughout the terminal. Terminal 3 at Changi, for example, features 919 skylights, floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a five-story vertical garden, all of which win the terminal green points and provide a more pleasant waiting area for business travelers.
Fresh air is perhaps nowhere more important than on aircraft, particularly for business travelers who are on the road frequently and need to remain healthy. In addition to making planes larger and lighter, one of the primary engineering feats incorporated into the design of both the Airbus and Dreamliner is a massive improvement in the circulation of fresh air and the amount of moisture in the cabin. Business travelers may be able to kiss flight-induced sinus troubles goodbye in the near future.
Green hotels are beginning to help business travelers opt out of any additional carbon guilt by providing greater access to other transportation modes, along with incentives for lower-emission vehicles. Various W, Fairmont and Hilton hotels are now offering free or reduced parking fees for hybrid cars. Starwood’s Element line of hotels, a line of green business hotels opening throughout 2008 and 2009, offers complimentary bikes to guests who prefer to get around on two wheels or just want a bit of outdoor exercise while they’re in town. Element also provides filtered water that runs straight from the tap in its rooms to cut down on plastic water bottles.
The Fountainbleau hotels have begun replacing the various paper items in its hotel rooms—menus, directions, hotel information—with digital information available on in-room iMacs. In addition to cutting down on paper waste, the computers may eliminate the need for business travelers to bring their laptops with them.
Competition for business travelers isn’t likely to slow down any time in the near future, which means they can look forward to more people-friendly design in the months and years ahead.AMY WESTERVELT is a freelance writer in San Francisco.