Thursday, January 26, 2017

Master Planning Inviting Airports

Put me in the school of thought airports should be showcases for the cities and countries they become points of entry to. Furthermore, it's notable they tend to be engines of economic activity in the regions they're located in. Certainly in the last decade some excellent examples have opened for airport follow. The Midfield Concourse at the Hong Kong International Airport has won numerous awards and seems to be well-liked by the local residences as well (see below). Kutaisi, Georgia, might have an airport worth remote travelling to. Dutch firm UNStudio completed an amazing structure for a smaller municipality. I find its red accents appealing and the intricate interior wood ceiling is well executed (see below).

This leads me to express concern about some of the early reports about Calgary's latest $2 billion airport expansion. I will necessarily keep some of the details vague because we really do try to be as positive as possible about architecture but at the same time – as I was wrestling with myself to even say anything at all – some of the early conclusions about the design do offer some insights about designing excellent architecture. Being in the same city as the airport in question I had heard descriptions of how proud the local design team was of the proposal. It incorporated some very new ideas about queuing science and airport building services. Initially none of their self-congratulations raised alarm because I like celebrating architecture and architectural challenges as much as the next person so nothing seemed out of place – yet.

The project suddenly had my full attention when I heard, as a result of some post-occupancy reviews, something like 900 extra seats were added by the airport authority. This struck me as odd because that's a pretty major thing to underestimate by a lot. Mind you I don't think these are the worse architectural crimes a building can commit and it seems to have been caught and corrected through a wisely implemented post-occupancy review. At the same time, however, I knew this sort of problem can have its roots in the architectural programming stage. Another consideration is reports from airlines with operations in Calgary that because of long travel times within the airport it has increased their operational costs. Misperceptions of these types can develop at the architectural programming stage because the airlines are the airport's clients, and the airport is the architect's client. It's a very non-trivial thing to accurately interpret the needs of the client's clients. Even retailers can miss the mark sometimes. Above I said missing seating was not the most grievous sin (it was caught; it is fixable). Increasing operational costs for users right off the bat is a whole other thing entirely. It's not fixable one. And two, it undermines the economic value of the building the design team has worked so hard to construct from the conceptual stage right to construction drawings. This is not the sort of thing I want Calgary to be known for nor should good design represent.

No doubt crowd and pedestrian prediction is tricky but there are whole segments of the AEC industry concerned with human-design and different approaches to architecture-human interfaces to address just these issues. I wouldn't be surprised if the design team had direct access to just this sort of expertise. I don't personally know what went wrong in the architectural programming phase to so badly misjudge human behaviour in this regard, but I definitely think all who are concerned their communities get architecture that functions as required should ask these questions of our very expensive public investments.

If you're an expert in the field or have some insights into the design, please feel free to reach out on social media to have your say! 

A photo posted by ASKDECO (@askdeco) on

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