Cultural Tradition Dictates Design

Airports have become national landmarks, great civic buildings serving as pivotal service and business centers, and gateways to the nation and the continent. But airports must also be perfect instruments, tuned to passenger comfort and operational...


Airports have become national landmarks, great civic buildings serving as pivotal service and business centers, and gateways to the nation and the continent. But airports must also be perfect instruments, tuned to passenger comfort and operational efficiency.

In the recent design competition for Terminal 2 at Incheon International Airport, the aim was to design a quintessentially Korean airport, echoing Korea’s architectural heritage and culture, deploying warm, natural materials, celebrating the region’s nature and garden tradition.

The most significant decision in designing the new terminal for Incheon was the selection of the appropriate organizational diagram for the building. In recent decades, a number of organizational diagrams for airports have evolved. The single-building terminal, with extended piers and hammerheads, such as at the Hong Kong International Airport, Pearson Terminal 1 in Toronto, or any one of the terminals at Changi International in Singapore.

In these buildings, landside and airside operations are integrated and connected, but at such large airports, extremely long piers, excessive walking distances, and supplementary conveyance such as power walks and trains are required to support the building.

At the opposite end of the organizational spectrum are airports where a dedicated processor serves landside operations, complemented by one or more concourses providing airside services, including the holding gates, retail operations, support services, and aircraft bridges.

Selecting A Building Model

We initiated the design process by favoring the single-building model as supported in the documents prepared by the Incheon Airport Corportaion. This indicated a preference for an organizational diagram where all 72 gates of the two phases of Terminal 2 and all airside operations would be accommodated in a single structure continuously connected for pedestrian traffic and supported by an associated means of passenger conveyance.

In our studies we simplified and improved the orientation of the diagram provided by the authority. We developed a processor with attached gates connected to a long pier terminating in a long linear concourse. This diagram was similar in some respects to Hong Kong International Airport.

While the architecture of such an airport might vary greatly depending on the particular interpretation, the organizational diagram nevertheless depends on extremely long walking distances for most passengers supported by power-walks. For additional flexibility and convenience, we studied the possibility of introducing an IAT (Intra-Airport Transit) system that would serve the long pier and connect to Terminal 1 through a transfer point.

While this diagram initially promised to provide advantages to retail operations by providing for a major concentrated retail center abutting security and passport control and exposed to passengers of all planes, complemented by a secondary node at the distant pier, deeper analysis showed major disadvantages to this arrangement: the distance from the gate to the retail minimizes passenger interaction time, which was detrimental to retail revenues.

The walking distances from processing to many gates was excessive, and the utility of the supporting train was limited to only serving the passengers at the extended pier. Future flexibility, convenience of transfer passengers, and aircraft maneuverability and taxiing all registered negatively, compared with other alternatives. Inspired by these challenges, we turned to an alternate model, which was surprisingly similar to that originally embraced for Incheon Terminal 1, but superior to it in many significant aspects.

The Alternate Model

For Incheon’s Terminal 1, a hybrid between the two models had been adopted. The main terminal building accommodates 44 gates and related airside services. In addition, one satellite concourse and ultimately a second and third were to provide for future growth and expansion. But after opening the terminal and the first satellite pier in the first and second development phases, the Incheon authority decided to abandon the original master-plan model.

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