Re-Defining Airports

Home / Programme / Bachelor of Science (ASD) / Courses / 20.111 Sustainable Design Option Studio 2 / Re-Defining Airports


Shirla Tse

Airports has always been an authoritative building typology partial to infrastructure, it is one dominant type – all of us, regardless of age, race, gender, background, interest, have had experience using it, yet, we are never at an airport ‘to be there’. We are ‘there’ only to transit or to greet others. Airports are not, by nature, a destination in itself for us to enjoy and cultivate, unlike a theatre, a house, a library, a park, a school, a church, an office, a museum or a cafe.

On the other hand, a lot of cities have been talking about Aerotropolis in the past decade. Governments and mayors are planning to build airports as another ‘city’ contained within: the terminal now consists of hotels, shopping stores, cinemas, office towers, Michelin-star restaurants, and even casinos. Overtaking the basic aeroplane runway, however, it happens mostly for commercial reasons, which are to generate most revenues when the passengers are waiting, so to cover the costly investment for such a large-scale construction that usually lasts for 15-20 years, from blueprint master planning to functioning utilization. The situation does not have to be just state-owned, look at the approximately 200 RyanAir airports. Half of the names we did not know as locations bring us to travel to a new ‘city’, and somewhere there is the very fringe of an existing developed city – where we can only rely on the unrivalled transport it provides when its flights arrive, at whichever time RyanAir sets for us. The airport is an isolated commercial event.

In this academic term, this studio will question this building typology – airports – as an urban hub, its validity, problems and potentials. What is the relationship between an airport and its surrounding contextual fabric? Is / can an airport be an incubator of urban transformation? Shall we insert an airport at the periphery of a ‘city’ to stimulate urban growth / sprawl or does a ‘city’ airport provides us with more opportunities to revitalise / gentrify an old town? On top of commercialism, can we use more of an airport to benefit from public / civic space, as for example, an art village, a central park, or a prison? What are the interdependencies of an airport to its ‘city’? Where does the massive engineering lie in the architecture in the urbanism of / for / from / within an airport?

The final goal of this studio is to reassess, rethink and redefine such architecture typology and urban paradigms, and speculate on a future that each designed airport will be.