It’s been a transformational decade for the aviation industry. Huge tectonic shifts in environmental, technological, and societal demands are forcing operators and designers to radically rethink how airports work – and will work – in the future.
“Cities around the world are becoming more and more connected – economically, socially, culturally – creating a growing demand for more efficient and dynamic airport facilities with stronger links to city-wide mobility, surrounding communities, and commercial activity.”
–Forth Bagley, Managing Principal
“As architectural designers and planners, we at KPF are consumed by questions big and small:
- How do we use airport terminal design to move towards carbon-neutral construction and operation
- How do we incorporate an ever-changing roster of technological advances into the long-term planning of terminals?
- How do these changes, along with others caused by COVID, drive larger volumes of travelers as well as increasingly demanding societal expectations?
- And finally, and most importantly: as designers, how can we elevate the actual experience of travel – for passengers as well as other airport stakeholders?”
– Jochen Tombers, Managing Principal
Our approach to aviation projects is unique amongst our peers. Rather than organize ourselves around a large “aviation studio,” we assemble purpose-built teams created for the specific needs of an undertaking. We only take on aviation projects where we think we can be impactful.
We’re focused on a few key places of excellence – the design of terminals; the planning of these buildings; delivering complex mega-projects; enhancing our digital services capabilities; and driving towards key social and environmental responsibilities for ourselves and our clients.
We approach airport planning through a systematic process that establishes a strategy for the efficient development of airports, consistent with local and international codes and regulations, to meet our client’s goals. A key objective of airport planning is to assure the effective use of airport resources in order to satisfy aviation demand in financially feasible manners while considering the environment.
Airport Within a City
Airport buildings play multiple roles for airport developers and operators, as well as for local and international communities, all the while serving passengers, operators, businesses, staff, transport, and trade. We bear our extensive planning experience to help airports meet these needs, be they regional airports, mega airport hubs, landmark airport cities, or other support infrastructure projects that help airport communities operate efficiently. Our approach combines both technical and operational expertise to create an excellent passenger experience, integrating an in-depth understanding of both passenger and system flows with a key focus on quality.
We start each project with a fresh, systematic analysis, regardless of its size and location. Our approach balances the complex relationships between the client’s requirements, passenger and system flows, stakeholder requirements, regulation, and investment. Our success in winning back to back mega terminals is proof that our designs are functional, buildable, fundable, and support the client’s operational vision.
“In our approach to the planning of airports, we prioritize two key considerations, each addressing planning at a different scale, the macroscopic scale of the Airport within the City and the microscopic scale of the Airport as the City itself.”
– David Cunningham, Aviation Director
Our terminals strike a balance between optimal processing spaces and memorable passenger experiences. Our designs are functional and enhanced by natural wayfinding – logical flows that put the passenger in control. We collaborate with specialist partners to blend disciplines and create efficient, sustainable designs suited to complex operational requirements. It is essential that any airport design is approvable by both stakeholders and regulatory authorities. We always engage in early dialogue with key stakeholders and all relevant authorities to inform our proposed design solutions with authority input from the onset.
A resonant theme within our projects is an aspiration to blur the edge between the airport and its context. To achieve this outcome, we often leverage the forecourt as a suture, extending the pedestrian realm of the context beyond the threshold of the Processor. This results in the airport as an integral gateway to its context and a natural extension of the adjacent urban fabric.
Airport as a City
Another key aspect to our approach to planning terminals is the idea of varying the scale and character of spaces within the terminal, reminiscent of the cities these terminals serve as gateways to. This makes the terminal feel like a showcase window for the city it serves and offers passengers a glimpse of what they can expect of their experience there.
The design of airport terminals and their accompanying land-wide development
is a complex and interdisciplinary process that involves a wide range of professionals,
including architects, engineers, interior designers, and project managers.
Our design teams focus on two principle goals: to create functional and efficient airport and commercial plans, and to meet the experiential, sustainable, and technological needs of passengers, airlines, and airport operators.
Our design process starts with a detailed analysis of the program and surrounding area, as well as a thorough understanding of the needs of the airport and its users. This includes consideration of factors such as passenger flow, baggage handling, security screening, retail, food and beverage offerings, parking, and transportation connectivity.
Based on this analysis, our design teams develop multiple concepts for the terminal that take into account the airport’s specific requirements, as well as the latest trends and best practices in airport terminal design. We analyze these options with our clients, evaluating the pros and cons of each approach from experiential, planning, and sustainability points of view.
“My design for Abu Dhabi Airport Midfield Terminal was singularly focused on the terminal as an expression of entry to Abu Dhabi – a symbol of the city and its values.”
– Mustafa Chehabeddine, Design Principal
Once a single concept has been developed, the design team creates detailed drawings and specifications for the components of the terminal, including interior finishes and external performance. Throughout this process, the team collaborates closely with the airport and airline stakeholders to ensure that the design meets their needs and is feasible from an operational standpoint. Finally, our team oversees the construction and implementation of the design, working closely with contractors and other stakeholders to ensure that the project is completed on time, within budget, and to the required standards of quality and safety. After the terminal is completed, we continue to provide support and maintenance services as needed, ensuring the design continues to meet the needs of its users over time.
Our Design Philosophy
At KPF, individual design leads bring specific sensibilities to each design effort. Some of our Design Principals focus more on experience, others on the integration of structure and building systems. All share a prioritization of the airport as urban system – a piece of the city. We avoid “airportiness” and aim to break down the scale of the terminals we design.
“I look towards the integration of program, structure and building systems in all of my work. At Nanning, I wanted to simplify the act of traveling and to connect it to the inspirational qualities of flight.”
– Hugh Trumbull, Design Principal
Making a Statement
While sensitive to the functional planning of terminals and airport cities, our design teams also prioritize passenger experience. Our terminals are some of the most iconic in the world, representative of the cultures and societies they support.
“At Changi Terminal 5, along with our partners at Heatherwick Studio, I’ve tried to think about the airport as a series of urban moments – as an extension of the city itself.”
– Trent Tesch, Design Principal
A Focus on Details
At KPF, we focus on the biggest gestures as well as on the smallest details. Our focus on the building’s systems lead us to elegant, well crafted designs of internationally recognized caliber.
To meet everchanging objectives and move projects to successful completion
requires a collaborative and focused decision-making process.
KPF’s team develops forward-thinking solutions to solve the complex issues facing the design and development of modern commercial aviation facilities. As the pace of airport infrastructure continues to rise and the delivery of terminal design and construction projects evolves, success depends on the close collaboration between airport owners, stakeholders, and designers.
For our airport projects, we lead from inception to completion. Our designers and managers work in conjunction with the industry’s best experts to configure teams of internationally-renowned consultants to specifically suit the requirements each of our clients’ needs.
“We focus on relationship building, integrating ourselves into the Clients’ team, using our expertise to analyze the requirements and challenge conventional solutions as part of our process.”
– Sibel Akcan, Aviation Associate
Communication is Key
As the Clients’ Design Team Leaders, we provide:
- Design direction
- Establishing client goals and aspirations
- Understanding the project budget and client key priorities
- Directing the multi-disciplinary design team
- Coordinating all design information
- BIM Management
- Managing the design program
- Design led value management
KPF has delivered and managed the design of some of the world’s largest and most complex building projects, and we delivered these mega-projects using tested and proven project controls systems – tailored for each project, specifically adapted to the client’s needs.
We understand that our Clients require a quality assuring management process to minimize risk, avoid delays or budget escalations on large scale public works infrastructure projects, and our approach to management is to be practical without being superfluous, but to deliver what our clients need.
“We like to fully engage with our Clients and their stakeholders from the onset of a project. Asking the right questions early and working through potential scenarios is critical to develop the right solutions and minimize project risk.”
– Jens Hardvendel, Aviation Project Director
We see airports as intensified urban microcosms, and as such, our design approach to airports comes from our decades-long experience as urban technologists. Our design methodology uses spatial analysis for data-driven place-making, digital tools for coordinating complex project requirements, and software tools for project coordination.
We use data analysis and simulation tools to inform the spatial layout and location of key programmatic elements to create active, lively places where people will want to be.
1. What makes great places? What is the program distribution and layout of successful places we want to emulate? We have a database of hundreds of great districts and can add any new relevant places on the fly. This includes successful airports, but also great neighborhoods we may want to learn from. We analyze the mix, density, and location of retail, convenience + services, hotels, arts + entertainment, and dining to establish trends and patterns.
2. Where do people go? We use our origin/destination tool to simulate pedestrian routes and footfall within our designs. This allows us to iteratively adjust the design and programming to make sure we are getting flows of people to activate key spaces and maximize retail value.
3. What do you see? We can map the visibility of every storefront, gate, or way-finding device to pedestrians to make sure that routes are clear and storefronts are getting the visibility they need to thrive.
4. How do you feel? We analyze the spatial experience of our designs to make sure they are places people want to be. We have a variety of tools, such as thermal comfort, spatial variety, and access to nature we use to understand and improve the spatial experience.
Airports are not just buildings; they are complex systems that need to meet a variety of requirements and regulations. From the efficiency of their operations to the structural integrity of the building, every aspect of the airport needs to be carefully planned and executed to ensure its success. We understand the critical drivers of airport success and work with our clients and consultants to build custom digital tools that can evaluate designs in real-time.
We apply these evaluation tools to parametric computational design models, which allow us to generate and test thousands of design options. By using these models, we can identify design strategies that can navigate the various requirements of the project right from the start. This means that we can optimize the design process and reduce the time and cost of the project.
“Overall, our digital services for aviation are designed to streamline the design process, improve collaboration, and ensure that projects are delivered on time and on budget.”
– Luc Wilson, Director, KPF Urban Interface
One example of our success is Terminal 5. We worked closely with the structural engineer and façade consultant to reduce the number of individual petals in the roof structure from 453 to 159. We did this while still meeting the requirements for structure and water drainage. This change helped to reduce the overall cost and complexity of the project. As a result, Terminal 5 has become a shining example of how our approach helps airports achieve success in a cost-effective and efficient way.
Bespoke Software Tools
Airports are complex environments that require significant coordination among designers, engineers, and other consultants. With large, globally dispersed teams, it can be challenging to obtain an updated snapshot and a complete project overview. Architects often need to collect and aggregate key materials from dozens of consultants, which can take weeks, and by the time they are gathered, the data may be out of date.
To address this issue, we build bespoke, cloud-based platforms for the aggregation of geometry and data from all consultants. Our platforms enable clients to have instant access to up-to-date project data. This helps to streamline the design process, keep all stakeholders informed, and ensure the project is delivered on time and on budget.
Our custom software solutions are designed to meet the unique needs of our clients, providing them with the tools they need to manage complex projects. We work closely with our clients to understand their requirements and develop software that is tailored to their specific needs.
By using our cloud-based platform, architects and other consultants can easily share and collaborate on project data, regardless of their location. This allows for real-time updates, ensuring everyone is working from the same information at all times. Our platform also provides a centralized repository for all project data, making it easier to manage and access critical information.
Social and Environmental Responsibility
At KPF, it is the scale and complexity of our projects that shapes our approach to sustainability and equity. Half regional infrastructure, half urban neighborhood, airports allow us to radically re-imagine buildings, energy, landscape, and transportation systems, addressing the global challenge of climate change and improving the experience of visitors and local communities alike.
Designing for net-zero carbon emissions
The challenges of decarbonizing transportation and building sectors meet in airport building design, having to plan for the ongoing transition towards sustainable aviation fuels, while mitigating the environmental impacts of the architectural equivalent of a small city. KPF design teams work closely with our in-house sustainability experts to develop an integrated path to carbon neutrality, informed by our experience in large scale mixed use projects. Starting with the building, modeling-aided passive thermal design of the airport envelope enables advanced energy systems that take advantage of district heat recovery opportunities and renewable generation on site, including utility scale PV, fuel cells, and direct carbon capture as proposed in Changi T5.
This integrated approach to infrastructure opens the door to zero-carbon ground operations, combining EV-only on-site mobility with optimization of transit, parking and micro mobility options for passengers and staff. We take a lifecycle approach to carbon, taking every opportunity to mitigate embodied carbon emissions associated structural materials and exploring the use of low carbon concrete alternatives and bio-based material systems including hybrid timber.
“Our commitment to a sustainable aviation future is focused on delivering evidence-based building solutions, capable of adapting to the long term challenges of climate change and technological development to benefit local communities.”
– Carlos Cerezo Davila, Sustainable Design Leader
Planning for resilient ecological systems
Often located in greenfield sites adjacent to major urban areas, airports can have significant impacts on bio-diversity, water and air quality, urban heat island effect, and noise levels, as well as introduce direct threats to local species. These impacts can further compromise resilience to extreme storm or heat events, exacerbated by the extension of impervious surfaces around an airport. Our approach uses advanced in-house microclimate and environmental modeling to understand the behavior of natural systems, and introduce light and air pollution mitigation measures, as well as roofs and ground level landscape replacement to help regenerate local habitats.
Supporting healthier & equitable communities
It is our commitment to not only provide a wellness experience to airport passengers, but help our partners understand how airports as large scale urban employers can contribute to social equity in the communities they serve. By designing for daylight, enhanced air filtration, and biophilia within terminal buildings our projects enhance the health of airport staff and minimize disease contagion between travelers. Outdoors, the careful shaping of the building can mitigate wind driven air pollution from ground traffic in nearby neighborhoods. Through creative planning, airports can become hubs for culture that support a diverse and stable workforce, providing accessible mobility, community services, and learning opportunities.
The future of airport terminal design will likely be shaped by a number of factors, including technological advancements, changing passenger expectations, and the need to increase efficiency and sustainability.
One major trend that is likely to continue is the integration of technology into every aspect of the airport experience. This will include everything from self-service check-in kiosks and biometric security screening, to virtual reality lounges and interactive wayfinding systems. As technology continues to improve, it may also become possible to automate more tasks and reduce the need for human interaction at certain points in the travel process.
“KPF believes in cities. We focus on airports as a basic building block of the city, and approach terminals as an urban design challenge.”
– James von Klemperer, KPF President
Another trend that is likely to shape airport terminal design in the future is a focus on environmental performance. This will leverage renewable energy sources, reducing waste, incorporating green spaces, and increasing natural light in our terminal designs. As concerns about climate change continue to grow, airport operators and airlines will need to take steps to reduce their carbon footprint and become more environmentally performative.
In terms of design, airport terminals are already becoming more modular and prefabricated. They are also being designed to be more adaptable. This approach will allow for the reconfiguration of spaces to accommodate changing passenger needs and improve operational efficiency. Additionally, there may be a move towards creating more flexible spaces that can be used for a variety of purposes, such as coworking, events, and revenue generating spaces.
Finally, there is likely to be an increased focus on creating a seamless and vibrant passenger experience. This could include everything from creating more comfortable seating areas and offering high-quality food and beverage options to providing more personalized services and entertainment options. By creating a more enjoyable and stress-free experience for passengers, airports will be able to attract more customers and increase revenue. Our unique approach to planning and designing airports combines elegance and functionality, driven by a forward-thinking mindset. We create sustainable solutions that meet the challenge of designing buildings that often only open a decade after the design process has begun and hence that stand the test of time and embrace innovation.
Despite a strong recovery following an unprecedented worldwide pandemic with a demand forecast not shy of pre-pandemic levels, our designs must address future uncertainties, from climate change to shifting markets to new trends and everchanging passenger expectations. Our approach includes the re-use of existing facilities such as unused carpark spaces in prime locations as well as a focus on the integration of multimodal transportation hubs including e-mobility and trains. Our buildings must support future change by modular designs that are flexible and phase-able without major changes in the building structures.
“The best place to view the future of the airport is from the interaction of our drawing boards and the digital realm – the passenger experience of the future will be a fully integrated urban experience, both physical and digital.”
– Shiju Balakrishnan, Aviation Director
Airports for the future will not only be functional buildings serving operational requirements but drivers that develop new communities and opportunities. Connecting to airport cities and wider commercial development surrounding terminals will be absolutely critical to making airports more vibrant, urban places.