7 Reasons Why Airports Need to Make a Design Statement

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While outstanding airport terminals are nothing new, investments in airport design were often reserved for only the largest international aviation hubs. However, there is a trend of smaller airports being designed with spaces that are not only highly functional, but visually arresting as well.

Today, almost every airport is being designed or redesigned to make an impact on visitors, airline employees, and locals alike. In the Philippines, airport development and airport maintenance services in the past few years have been characterized by the reimagining of older civil aviation facilities into tangible architectural statements. In this article, we will look into several reasons why airports in the Philippines are now making bold design statements.

1) Better design creates a strong first impression

Airports are often the first point of contact for travelers when arriving in a city or country. The impression that first-time visitors get from an airport can therefore heavily inform their ideas of the surrounding area. Airport designers have the opportunity to influence these sentiments by choosing visually interesting and memorable architecture and interior design, setting a positive tone for visitors landing at airports. In turn, this positive impression can generate additional interest in the airport and the region it serves.

The recently developed Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) Terminal 2 exemplifies this principle. Unlike most international airport terminals, MCIA Terminal 2 mostly eschews the typical glass, concrete, and aluminum cladding-centered look that has defined most modern airports in favor of showcasing natural wood and other locally sourced materials.

While the added capacity and improved efficiency of the new terminal were certainly welcome, the memorable wooden arches and wide spaces with minimal columns create a striking look, especially when compared with most other international airports around the world. The contributions of Filipino designers Budji Layug, Royal Pinda, and Cebu’s own Kenneth Cobonpue also add to the strong local feel of the airport, giving even travelers on connecting flights a feel for the area.

2) Regional branding is influenced by local airport design

Airports can be more than just visually interesting pieces of architecture. They can also be statements about the history, culture, and aspirations of the areas they serve. In regional Philippine airports, an ongoing trend is to employ architecture and interior design ideas that evoke the character of the surrounding area.

For instance, Puerto Princesa International Airport features extensive biomimicry in its terminal design, recalling the abundant natural wonders that could be found just minutes outside the gateway. Davao City’s Francisco Bangoy International Airport, similarly, has a giant durian statue that communicates pride in the region’s unique produce. In Pampanga, Clark International Airport’s new terminal likewise showcases updated Filipino vernacular architecture in its design.

3) Better-designed airports boost local tourism

Good impressions and strong branding are, of course, necessary for healthy local tourism. Going back to the MCIA, the opening of the new terminal in 2018 was almost immediately followed by a massive boost in arrival numbers, only temporarily interrupted by the early part of the pandemic and recovering shortly after.

The improved terminal design won accolades from both aviation and architecture circles which were validated within months of the MCIA Terminal 2’s opening. The design dramatically improved the efficiency of visitor handling, preventing delays and technical issues and making the airport an overall better place to enter the country. As a result, tourism in Cebu and the rest of the Central Visayas has been invigorated, with numbers seen to continue climbing into the future.

4) Design is key to visitor comfort

Visuals, branding, and functionality are not the only areas where airports can make statements through their designs. More than ever, airports are being judged by visitors based on the creature comforts and experiences they offer.

As a result of these ever-increasing expectations, airport operations development in the Philippines is now highly focused on giving visitors the kind of amenities and diversions they expect, including lounges, duty-free shopping, and a selection of dining options. A few larger airports such as MCIA may even offer easy access to such facilities as casinos, resorts, and luxury hotel accommodations.

5) Great airports create a stronger sense of local identity

Airports are not just for visitors but for locals as well. When locals are able to give inputs on airport design, as with the aforementioned MCIA, Puerto Princesa, Clark, and Francisco Bangoy international airports, it allows these aviation hubs to transcend their roles as mere infrastructure assets to become an integral part of the community. When this happens, airports can help strengthen regional identity and pride.

6) Airport design can draw in more airlines

Better-designed airports are not just good for passengers but also for the airlines that operate from them. More efficient operations and better facilities for airline employees can lead to air service providers expanding operations in an airport and other airlines becoming interested in the facility. Thus, by focusing on improved designs, airports may attract more passenger and cargo airlines, strengthening their service areas’ connections to the rest of the world.

7) Investing in airport design makes good business sense

Civil aviation infrastructure can be extremely expensive to develop, which is why smaller airports have historically been fairly basic installations. However, investments in airport design offer immense potential value from additional tourists, airlines, and investors that would not come by if the airport had a more basic design. Investing in airport design, therefore, may be highly beneficial to investors and other stakeholders, stimulating the local economy and allowing airports to recoup their construction and development costs sooner.

Choices in airport design have a profound impact on the airport’s viability as well as the economic performance of the surrounding region. By investing more into airport design and getting the input of local stakeholders, airport planners are not merely making performative decisions that make a facility look good to outsiders. Rather, they make truly practical choices that impact how airports perform and how well they connect local communities with the rest of the world.

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