10 - Our vision for future airport design by Weston Williamson + Partners

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With global population and air travel predicted to grow significantly during the 21st century, the aviation industry faces significant challenges in achieving environmentally sustainable growth. Next-generation airports will be designed for optimal efficiency to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. They will need to be flexible and adaptable to rapidly increasing passenger demand and constantly evolving operational requirements and technologies. Our vision for future airport design is born out of efficient strategic transport planning within the context of sustainable green-city development and explores the potential for new technologies that can transform the passenger experience. This essay was written by freelance architecture and design journalist Pamela Buxton following a series of conversations with WestonWilliamson+Partners.

Electricity + Heat Production

1. Transport is currently responsible for 14% of global CO2 emissions, of which 12.7% is generated by air travel, compared with 72.1% by road and 1.6% by rail.


Other Energy

10% 24%

21% Industry

6% 14% Buildings


Rail 1.6% Other 2.4% Water 11.2%

Air 12.7%

Road 72.1%

Agriculture, Forestry + Other Land Use



magine an airport at the heart of a thriving mixed-use community with public transport at its core. An airport that challenges traditional carcentric models and instead rethinks airports as sustainable green-city development. An airport where passenger experience is transformed by technological advances. This is our vision for Aerotropolis – the airport city of the maybe-not-too-distant future. Airports are 20th-century building types that need reinvention to tackle 21st-century challenges. Air traffic is expected to double in the next 20 years1 as emerging markets expand, driven by a predicted growth in global population from 7.5 billion to 9 billion by 2050.2 With airport use set to rise so dramatically, it’s vital that airports play their part in reducing CO2 emissions to tackle global warming. Transport is currently responsible for 14%3 of global CO2 emissions, of which 12.7% is generated by air travel, compared with a massive 72.1% by road and just 1.6% by rail. Historically, many airports have evolved and expanded organically to meet increased passenger demand and changing operational requirements. Heathrow’s Central Terminal Area, built in the 1950s, is a good example of this. The original masterplan had a short-term vision for expansion; with the airport built on a constrained site, there was no strategic plan for growth. Terminals 1, 2 and 3 were grouped around a central bus terminus and multi-storey parking, and served by a single access road. Over time, as the airport capacity grew significantly, the terminal buildings expanded and more parking was added, further constraining the site.


2,3+4. Heathrow’s Central Terminal Area was built in the 1950s. The original masterplan had only a short-term vision for expansion, with the airport built on a constrained site with no strategic plan for growth.

5. NASA’s Quiet Aircraft Technology Program developed the chevron nozzle.


Sustainable by Design “At WestonWilliamson, we believe that future transport infrastructure, including air, can be environmentally sustainable. To achieve this, it is imperative to move away from a reliance on fossil fuels and get more private cars off the road by investing in efficient and comfortable public transport. Ideally, this would be guided by a government-led strategic vision for infrastructure with significant investment to create a high-speed rail network linking our cities and airports. This would be supplemented by metro systems to district centres and to park-and-ride facilities on the periphery of the public transport network.” Public transport, rather than cars, needs to be at the very centre of airport planning, which is in contrast to the way airports were planned in the last century. This will require a substantial shift in behaviour, not only by the public but by the airports themselves, which traditionally generate significant revenue from car parking and will need to look to other sources of income. Another important factor driving airport evolution is the potential for quieter and cleaner airports through investment in research and development. Current initiatives include NASA’s Quiet Aircraft Technology Program, which developed the chevron nozzle, aimed at significantly reducing engine noise, and developed aerodynamic covers for the landing gear to reduce air turbulence noise. A NASA study found that aircraft powered by biofuel blends can cut particle emissions by 50 to 70%.4 Hybrid airship technology developed by Lockheed Martin uses a third of the amount of fuel that a cargo plane of a similar capacity does. Under the Airport Carbon Accreditation system, airports will get a rating, encouraging them to raise their game on sustainability. Manchester Airport recently became the UK’s first carbon-neutral airport, while Heathrow is set to introduce an ultra-lowemission zone by 2025, and aims to be zero carbon, zero waste by 2050.

New Commercial Models As these advances continue, there is a prospect for significantly improving air quality and reducing noise pollution at airports. As a result, land around airports will become much more valuable as it becomes a more attractive development proposition for non-airportrelated activity. This contrasts with the current situation where airports tend to be built away from cities, with only poor-quality development or no development around them because of the noise and air pollution. Airports are now starting to recognise the value of this surrounding land, and its potential as a new revenue stream. They need to futureproof themselves by buying such land now so that they are ready to develop it, possibly through joint ventures with commercial property investors and developers. “New commercial models will give airports the potential to evolve beyond their essential roles as transport hubs into catalysts for Transport Oriented Development (TOD) – urban districts where people live and work in a wide variety of sectors. Historically we’ve seen this happen around rail stations for many years. Once noise and pollution are reduced, it can happen around airports too.” WestonWilliamson has explored what form an Aerotropolis of the future could take as part of our ongoing research and work on green-city development, light rail systems and TOD-related settlements. The concept builds on the work we did for the Airports Commission in 2015 on a potential expansion of Luton Airport. Airports create challenging scenarios. We envisage the airport district in the context of a new city development, conceived as one of a number of satellite areas in the city. These are connected via high-speed rail to the city centre and by metro rail to each other. With improvements in air and noise quality, the airport district will become a more attractive proposition for regional economic development, with the potential to attract uses that will benefit from international connectivity such as hi-tech industries, expos, sports stadia and higher education establishments. This will not be some sort of ghost-town business park. There will also be residential buildings, retail, schools, leisure areas – everything that a city community needs. And, like any city, Aerotropolis will depend on a high-quality public realm and connectivity. A strong sense of place is essential for its longterm success, and for the city to embrace the district as a genuine part of the city.


District Centre Interchange Town Centre Interchange Central Business District & Transport Interchange Drone Ports Airport Commercial Development High Speed Rail Station Lower to Higher Population Density High Speed Rail Standard Rail / Metro Green Belt

6. New city development: The airport district is one of a number of satellite areas connected via high-speed rail to the city centre, and by metro rail to each other.

7. WW+P’s vision of a new garden city.


High Speed Rail Station

Green Interchange

Airport Terminal

High Speed Rail Station

Green Interchange

Airport Terminal

Satellite Pier Satelitte Pier

8. A seamless interchange between allTransport modes ofHierarchy transport is needed, but the fundamental interface around which all else is orientated is the highspeed rail station.

Outer Orbital Road Outer Orbital Road

9. Transport access hierarchy: Residual car parking will be provided on the perimeter orbital road at underground park-and-ride stations. In a cutting below ground, an inner orbital road will be used by electric buses and autonomous vehicles.

Park & Ride Station Underground Parking & Park&Ride Station

Inner Orbital Road Inner Orbital Road

Airport Terminal & High Speed Rail Station Airport Terminal & High Speed Rail Station



Airport Planning The airport terminal itself must provide a seamless interchange between all modes of transport with simple and direct passenger routes. At its heart is the important interface with the high-speed rail station, around which all else is orientated. Grouped around the terminal buildings are the commercial, business and residential areas, with the residential development positioned away from the flight-path noise corridor – the zone from which aircraft take off and to which they come in to land. Surrounding the Aerotropolis development is green-belt land bounded by an outer orbital airport road; and closer to the centre is an inner orbital road for electric buses, autonomous vehicles and deliveries. This runs in a cutting below ground level. There will always be some who continue to drive to the airports. Residual car parking will be provided on the perimeter orbital road at underground park-and-ride centres. From here, people will be transported to the airport and surrounding commercial development by electric buses and autonomous vehicles. Cycleways and footpaths will be given priority over private car access. “Future airport infrastructure should be planned for optimal efficiency to reduce energy consumption, journey times, and travel times for aircraft and ground-support vehicles. This also needs to be planned with foresight for expansion.�

10. Aerotropolis: Grouped around the terminal buildings are the commercial, business and residential areas. Surrounding the Aerotropolis is green-belt land bounded by an outer orbital road.


High Speed Rail Metro / Underground Automated People Mover Road Subsurface Road Park & Ride - Bus / Tram Underground Car Park Airport Noise Cone





High Tech Industrial




Terminal Building & Piers Perimeter Road Cargo Terminals / Logistics Green Corridor High Speed Rail & Terminal Runway Automated People Mover

11. Our design for the airport begins with a runway parallel to the high-speed rail link with the terminal building situated in between. The terminal infrastructure is a modular design, which safeguards for future expansion; initially, the piers will be expanded, then satellites added. When the runway reaches capacity, a second parallel runway can be added.

Innovations in technology There is great potential to enhance the air passenger experience through innovations in technology. Airports of the future will need to be more flexible and adaptable in their design and planning to respond to a rapidly changing industry. Use of online check-in means that the need for huge check-in halls is already receding, and we expect that trend to continue. WestonWilliamson is currently working on plans for Toronto Pearson International Airport to consolidate all passenger drop-off, check-in and security functions in a new terminal linked to the existing terminals by high-speed people and baggage movers. The old terminals will eventually be converted entirely into concourse and gating facilities. Advances in bag-tag machines will enable greater use of remote checkin and luggage drops at rail stations, bus stations, hotels – even your home. This has already been successfully implemented at a number of airports, including Hong Kong International Airport, where passengers can check in their baggage before taking the Airport Express. For many people, this may require a rather large leap of faith, but it is likely to become commonplace, with ultra-efficient sustainable courier vehicles used to ferry luggage to the airport, leaving the traveller to proceed unencumbered. The thoroughly stressful experience of wrestling your bag onto public transport and lugging it to the airport check-in could soon be over. Increased use of biometric technology has the potential to radically change the customer experience by decreasing the number of times passengers have to produce documentation during passenger processing – thus reducing queues. Instead, facial image or iris details will be captured at the first touchpoint and this information linked to passport and travel documents. This system is already being trialled in Brisbane Airport by Air New Zealand, and by KLM at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. As it becomes more widespread, this too is likely to decrease the need for big processing areas such as check-in and immigration halls.



Central Business District

Check-in your bags at your hotel

Travel to the airport bag-free

High Speed Rail

Through Airport Security & straight onto the plane

12. Remote check-in: Advances in bag-tag machines will enable greater use of remote check-in and luggage drops at rail stations, bus stations, hotels and even homes.


Disrupted Passenger Experience ‘Walk-through’ Passenger Experience

Baggage Drop

Boarding Card Presentation


13. Walk-though passenger screening will one day be a reality, with high-capacity sensors capable of screening several travellers at a time. Security Search


Boarding Gate

Boarder Control


14. Facial image or iris details will be captured at the first touchpoint, and this information will be linked to passport and travel documents.


NI: XXXX000001110550

ID: 0000000033200005 0000440000001111


Passenger Experience Future airport planners will need to accommodate fast-changing requirements and technology while improving the customer experience. The idea of walk-through passenger screening will one day be a reality, with high-capacity sensors capable of screening several travellers at a time. The technology is currently being prototyped at Northeastern University in the USA.5 Such innovations would revolutionise the design of security areas. Once through to airside, greater use of apps on mobile devices will provide access to personalised flight information with ‘time-to-gate’ advice, meaning less anxious camping-out around the information screen. Such innovations will play an important part in reducing stress. Not only is this key to improving the passenger journey, but it makes financial sense too – people who are stressed aren’t enjoying themselves and are therefore less likely to relax and spend money at the airport’s commercial facilities. Airport planners can further reduce stress by ensuring ease of wayfinding. Changes in level and direction should be kept to a minimum. Routes should be intuitive and explicit enough that signs aren’t really necessary. Ideally, the rail–air interchange should be on the same level to achieve a seamless transition between the modes of transport. Hong Kong International Airport is a good example of the optimal configuration. Singapore’s Changi Airport often tops users’ lists of best airports, and there are several reasons why this is the case. It is quiet, as carpet is the predominant floor covering. It is well laid out, with shops distributed along the main routes, and it has attractions designed to relax passengers, including a cactus garden, kinetic rain sculptures and an art-rubbing station. It also has travellators on the longest connections to gates; the size of modern aeroplanes inevitably requires greater distances between them. Changi Airport is also unusual in that its security screening facility is located immediately adjacent to the gate. This is expensive as it requires enclosed gate rooms and more dedicated staff and machinery, which is only in use every few hours rather than constantly when centrally located. But it minimises queuing and anxiety as the plane is the next step and is clearly visible through the window.

15+16. Trends suggest an increasing emphasis on relaxation and leisure, with facilities such as sleeping pods, gyms, spas, cinemas and pools being introduced.



17. A new transport hub at Heathrow would enable passengers to arrive at Paddington in 23 minutes by Crossrail. 18. WW+P’s TOD strategy for a threerunway Heathrow includes plans for new university campuses, exhibition centres and public spaces.

Stratford International Heathrow transport hub


23 mins



Paddington coach terminal

Existing Saxon Pond

New Public Plaza


New Exposition Centres / Technology Campus


New New Coach University Depot Campus

New Public Plaza


3RD RUNWAY 2.5km 200m


Airport retail offers are likely to become more varied as airports seek to attract and engage travellers in an increasingly competitive market. Some airports, such as Dubai, provide a shopping-mall experience but nowhere for the traveller to relax and step away from the throng. Others force shoppers to walk long distances along meandering routes. We believe a better model is a courtyard-based approach that takes inspiration from urban-realm design principles, with seating provided at the centre surrounded by retail. Trends suggest an increasing emphasis on relaxation and leisure, with some airports already offering facilities such as reclining chairs, sleeping pods, gyms, spas, cinemas and art galleries. Nature is also being brought into the airport environment in the form of trees, green walls and pools. Heathrow has lately been reworking its old airport model to better suit today’s needs and improve efficiency. Future plans have been described as “visionary” and “sustainable but affordable”, and praised for pushing “the boundary of what an airport could and should be”. WestonWilliamson has proposed a new ‘super coach hub’ at Heathrow, which would reduce London’s traffic congestion and air pollution and help to mitigate the environmental impacts of the proposed third runway. Instead of the current multitude of small-scale bus depots throughout London serving hundreds of coaches every day, passengers from all over the country could disembark at a single, highly efficient Heathrow depot and continue their journey into Central London on the new Crossrail line. Locating a mega-depot near the airport would dramatically reduce congestion and air pollution on arterial roads into the city, in line with the mayor’s draft transport strategy and healthy streets approach. The scheme is part of an overall TOD strategy for a three-runway Heathrow, which includes plans for new university campuses, exhibition centres and public spaces in a sustainable masterplan. Unprecedented technological advancement is providing cleaner more healthy ways to live and move between our cities, across our country and the world. Integration of air travel is central to this change, presenting significant opportunities for designers and planners to rethink airport locations and planning. With a combination of social, technological and economic evolution and efficient high-speed infrastructure design, the joy can be brought back into flying- an Aerotropolis at the heart of thriving mixed use communities. Future airports must take on board the lessons learned and plan for a new generation with super-efficient transport hubs and Aerotropolis developments, which are integral districts of sustainable green cities.


19. Modern airports bring the outside in, with gates configured around gardens for a more relaxing and interesting environment.

Picture Credits: 1. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 2. © The National Archives 3. © PA 4. © British Airways 5. © Nasa 6. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 7. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 8. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 9. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 10. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 11. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 12. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 13. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 14. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 15. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 16. © San Francisco International Airport (SFO) 17. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 18. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 19. © WestonWilliamson+Partners

Text References: 1 2 3 4 5

IATA Passenger Forecast, 2014. UN DESA Report World Population Prospects, 2015. US Environmental Protection Agency. NASA/SSAI Edward Winstead. Northeastern University.