Airports are the cathedrals of the 21st century, large public spaces placed at the service of their users. They are the main gateways into and out of a country and also the last image a passenger sees before boarding an aeroplane. Their public nature and geographic location means they are more than just a place where to take off, land or transit through. A well-designed and conceived airport is also a destination; something memorable that is worth it in itself. Technology and innovation are placed at the service of society. At Luis Vidal + arquitectos we provided a response to the enormous puzzle which is an airport through our most emblematic project: Heathrow Terminal 2 in London. It is a building which laid down the bases for fourth-generation terminals, the paradigm for a new generation of hubs built to provide a response to the needs of passengers (many of whom are seeking unique experiences), airlines, management companies and the countries they represent.
Globalisation, connectivity and the rise in population are giving airport infrastructures a formerly unheard of role.
Globalisation, connectivity and the rise in population are giving airport infrastructures a formerly unheard of role: modern airports have become significant driving forces for economic and social development. Their symbiosis with metropolitan areas is such that both cities and airports grow symmetrically.
United States – the world’s third most populous country – has the chance of placing itself at the cutting edge of transport infrastructures and creating social and economic wealth thanks to projects like Denver International Airport (the largest airport complex in North America) and Dallas-Fort Worth, the world’s third-busiest airport in terms of aircraft traffic. Our responsibility as architects resides in designing fourth-generation terminals which are safe and capable of handling an increase in passengers over the next twenty years, while reducing their environmental impact. According to IATA (International Air Transport Association) forecasts, around 7.2 billion people will take an aeroplane in 2035. The United States will be the world’s second-largest aviation market with over 1.1 billion travellers a year. This rise in the number of passengers will make it necessary to enlarge aviation infrastructures, which will involve major investments to adapt airports, terminals and surrounding areas. Governments and the private sector have to be up to the job of providing a response to such needs.
This is precisely the challenge posed by progress that Luis Vidal + arquitectos has wholeheartedly accepted since the studio was founded in 2004. We did it at Heathrow London’s Terminal 2, which was granted 26 international awards and the first airport in the world to obtain a BREEAM Excellent rating for its sustainability, and we are continuing to do it at AMB Airport in Santiago de Chile (in association with ADPI), at Dallas-Fort Worth and at Denver International Airport. These are the challenges we are facing, without forgetting the impact of emerging technologies and the growing concern for security.
These are pragmatic, functional, contemporary cathedrals which are capable of adapting to future challenges, generating the best possible user experience and fostering economic and social development.
(*) Luis Vidal (Barcelona, 1969) studied Architecture at the University of Greenwich in the United Kingdom, where he graduated with honours in 1994. He is a member of the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects), the COAM (Official College of Architects of Madrid) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA).