Airports that tell you where you are

Airports that tell you where you are

POSTED: Saturday, July 26, 2014 - 1:00pm

UPDATED: Saturday, July 26, 2014 - 1:04pm

By Katia Hetter- CNN

(CNN) -- Where are we? The question pops up in the startling moment when an airplane's wheels hit the runway and jolt dozing travelers awake.

Flight attendants mention the arrival city, local time and temperature, but the words don't quite register. As we deplane via an enclosed jetway, there's no blast of fresh air to tell us where we've landed. Most airports all look the same, with little or no hint of the place that awaits.

But that's not the case at the new terminal at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, which opened in January.

Traditional Indian pavilions and the peacock, the country's national bird, inform the design of the 4.4 million-square-foot complex, which is expected to eventually handle 40 million passengers annually.

"You know you're in Mumbai when you land," said Mark Leininger, associate director at the architecture firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which designed Mumbai's Terminal 2. "And you're not just setting your body clock but your cultural clock."

The Indian tradition of hospitality first appears at the departure areas, which are wide and covered to protect the many family members who often come to drop off or pick up their loved ones in monsoons and heat.

Other cultural references can be found through the terminal. The eye of the peacock's tail feather can be seen in the terminal's grand ceiling and column panels, and custom chandeliers, inspired by the lotus flower, hang throughout the concourses.

Say goodbye to nondescript, anonymous airports with the same newsstands and fast-food chains. Today's airport operators, and the designers they hire, are building terminals that reflect their locations.

Countries building new airports want to evoke their nations' spirits through materials, colors and forms, and give travelers positive feelings, Leininger says.

It's not just about high-end design or selling more local trinkets. Air travel is increasingly a stressful experience. People want to adjust to their new surroundings, recover their bags and get on their way.

This movement is not just happening at large international airports in India, Jordan and Qatar. The renovated Jackson Hole Airport, in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park, reopened in 2010 with a Western-themed design featuring wood, stone and glass. The new waiting room for passengers who have cleared security has a fireplace and animal-hide sofas.

"There's enough glass to allow you to get a view of the mountains," said Bill Hooper, who leads the aviation and transportation practice at Gensler, the architectural firm that designed the airport. "We're not going to button you up in some soulless building that keeps you from getting your own bearings."

And the trend does not show any signs of slowing down. The finalists for the next Mexico City airport have been told to reflect the culture in their designs.

Editor's note: The CNN 10: Better by Design series looks at 10 ways our shared spaces are being re-invented through fresh design.

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