Most airports feel like air passenger purgatory but visit any of these five architecturally cool airports – featuring everything from an indoor urban park to award-winning structures – and you won’t want to step on the plane.
Airport Park at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Beyond passport control at Schiphol Airport lies a sprawling space for taking in nature’s sights and sounds – Airport Park. This indoor/outdoor lounge was designed to look like an urban park with ivy-covered furniture, tree logs masquerading as seating. Travellers can relax with organic treats from Park Café at one of the picnic tables on the outdoor terrace, listening to the sounds of animals and cyclists. Airport Park isn’t only appealing to travellers’ tired eyes, but to the eco-friendly. LED lighting and fibre optics cables powered by natural light illuminate the park. Those with mobile phones that need recharging can put their travel-stiffened legs to use by going for a spin on a bicycle that produces energy.
Beijing Capital International Airport
The architecture in the international terminal of Beijing’s airport is a mix of ultra-modern and traditional Chinese elements. Designed by London firm, Foster + Partners (architects of London’s Gherkin and the German Reichstag parliament building), construction on the terminal was completed in four years – breakneck speed – just in time to welcome the international community to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. Inside, travellers are sure to marvel at the massive, curved ceilings and a colourful Chinese pagoda. Unusually for a Foster-designed building, colour is playfully employed, with touches of red representing Chinese culture and traditions.
Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport Railway Station
You’d be forgiven for thinking you were going on a journey to outer space than an international flight when you arrive at Lyon-Saint Exupéry airport. The railway station at Lyon’s airport looks as though it is about to set off into outer space with its futuristic design, as the structure splits off into two identical steel arches with a triangular peak resembling more of spaceship rather than a port for high-speed trains. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava the station was completed in 1994. Calatrava has won numerous awards and his designs projects include Valencia’s controversial City of Arts and Sciences, the sports complex designed for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and another amazing airport, Sondica, in Bilbao, Spain.
Terminal Four at Madrid Barajas Airport
The whimsical design of Barajas Airport’s Terminal Four welcomes travellers to Spain’s vibrant capital. The exterior and interior ceilings are adorned with over 200,000sq m (2,100,000sq ft) of laminated bamboo strips to create a wave-like effect but most striking is a 1 km-long (0.6 miles) row of pillars along the terminal’s central pier, each one painted a slightly different shade to form an eye-popping rainbow of graduated colour. The London-based architectural firm, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, designed the space by deriving inspiration from previous work at London Heathrow and in 2006 it won the prestigious Stirling Prize for architecture, the only airport to do so.
Denver International Airport
At the foot of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains lies the enormous Denver International Airport where unusual and sustainable features make up its incredible architecture. The striking Jeppesen Terminal building designed by Curtis Fentress Architects features a canopied roof, made out of Teflon coated in fibreglass, and is structured into triangular peaks to resemble the mountaintops, Native American tepees and western settlers’ wagons that have been integral to Denver’s geography and history. The Teflon roof can withstand heavy winds and snow, but is light enough to let in 10% of solar rays and reflect 90% of radiation. And for extra eco-friendly points, Denver also has the largest airport solar panel farm in the nation.