It’s hard to love an airport. We appreciate it, sure. We are happy they exist, yet it’s a challenge for any architect to design an airport that people will love for its unique design as well as its functionality. Most of us generally just see them as hubs to facilitate us getting from Point A to Point B – minus the taxi queue. Below are 5 of the most beautifully designed airports in the world, collated by Jonathan Glancey, who would love for the rest of us to take some time to appreciate the sheer brilliance of these megastructures and the beauty of the quaint aerodomes.
Courchevel Airport, France
Opened in 1961 to boost the fortunes of this top-end French Alpine ski-resort, Courchevel is the most demanding for pilots. They have to negotiate deep mountain valleys and a notoriously short runway, set into the mountainside and sloping at an angle of 18.5 degrees. This slows landing aircraft very quickly and the view through the cockpit is somewhat daunting. Takeoffs are downhill, allowing aircraft to scramble into the mountain air in record time. Pilots require a special certificate to fly here. James Bond was possibly an exception: you can see his exploits at Courchevel in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies.
Queen Tamar Airport, Mestia, Georgia
Mestia is a small ski town, 1,500m up in the Caucasus mountains in northwest Georgia and its churches and forts form a Unesco World Heritage site. The bizarre new airport terminal – in the guise of an extruded square steel and glass section bent into three improbable directions – is the work of the German artist and architect Jurgen Mayer-Hermann. The black and white structure has been designed to attract the curious and to help put Mestia on the map of the modern world.
Dammam King Fahd International Airport, Dammam, Saudi Arabia
Dammam is one of the most oil-rich cities on earth. Its airport is possibly the world’s largest, although this claim is based on the land it occupies: countless acres of desert sands yielding to the Persian Gulf. Planned by the Japanese architects Yamasaki and Associates starting in 1976, the airport was opened for full commercial operation in 1999. During the first Gulf War, it had served as a military base. It sits 50kms from Dammam and reached by a road though a desert of camels, Bedouin tents and other scenes from traditional Arabian life. A lavish royal terminal here is rarely used and, on the whole, this enormous airport seems remarkably quiet.
Hajj Terminal, King Abdul Aziz Airport, Jeddah
Formed by an array of gigantic tents aligned in the most orderly fashion, this is one the most unexpected, and mesmerising, airport terminals. What makes it so different is that it is only used during six weeks of each year, for a million or so Muslims flying into Jeddah on their way to Mecca during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. The Bangladeshi engineer Fazlur Rahman Kahn and the American architects SOM came up with a brilliant plan: a gigantic and naturally ventilated grid of tents, although the fabric of the 210 “tents” that form one giant structure are made of modern Teflon-coated fibreglass supported by tapering 45m steel poles. The sides of the “tents” are open to the elements. Serving as a giant sunshade, the roofs of the terminal keep pilgrims comfortable as they wait to be transferred, by road, to Mecca, 70km away. They can also cook their own food, creating an atmosphere more like a souk than an airport terminal.
Chek Lap Kok (Hong Kong International), Terminal 1, Hong Kong
This huge, airy and elegant airport was built to coincide with the handover of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, although the opening took place the following year. The vast Terminal 1, designed to look like a giant airliner by Foster and Partners, sits on top of a landfill extension of Hong Kong. Chep Lap Kok is characterised by lightweight steel and glass roofs, clear passenger routes, carefully modulated daylight, commanding views out to the aircraft and a vast central “market square”.
This article originally appeared on the BBC by Jonathan Glancey.