Day 7: CDG 2E - Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Paris, France
Day 7: CDG 2F - Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Paris, France
Day 7: MAD T2 - Madrid-Barajas International Airport, Madrid, Spain
Recap of Day 4 at MAD T4
As promised, here is my
movie airport review of Madrid-Barajas Terminal 4, designed by Richard Rogers and Partners.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints about this terminal, from friends, colleagues, blogs, etc. Not having been able to see more than the check-in concourse (since I had no ticket to go through this terminal), I can only comment on what I saw and felt in terms of the atmosphere that has been created for the passenger. The criticism mostly deals with things like confusing layouts and incredibly grand spaces which take forever to navigate. Very valid concerns, yes. But at the same time, credit has to be given, in my opinion, to the architect for distancing himself from the ‘traditional’ look of the airport and embracing a much more holistic and ‘natural’ feel. I’ll explain what I mean in a moment.
I find it very interesting that sometimes the pictures which look the best derive from spaces that feel the worst or are simply mediocre. This contradiction can actually be very easily explained if you think about it. When we look at images, we are attracted to the ones that look magnificent and spark our imagination. In that way, we generally rely on one sense and one sense only (sight) to try and understand the essence of the captured image. When we travel through a space, all of our senses naturally become engaged and it’s at this point that we can begin to experience a more unbiased, less superficial version of reality. This is not to say that either approach is wrong, but rather that one MUST experience a space in order to be able to legitimately comment on the successes and failures of it. Oftentimes the image may capture the ambition perfectly… and naturally this appeals to and excites us. However, there is always more to the story than meets the eye, as they say.
Terminal 4 is beautiful. It’s beautiful despite that it seems too large and removed from the human scale. It’s beautiful despite any flaws it may have, simply because it does certain things so incredibly well. The use of natural materiality, the elegance of its wavy ceiling, the gradient of its vivid colour palette on the structural elements, the purity and clean lines of its layout, and so on. These things make it essential for us to recognize that this airport is like no other and that the design reflects that the architect has approached something, or a number of things, very differently.
Modern space planning principles are applied at the terminal, meaning that maximum flexibility was sought after in terms of how best to incorporate the necessary retail, amenities, and security elements. The check-in counters are modular units that stand singularly in the centre of the space, ensuring that people can navigate to and around them without much obstruction. Retail and amenities are relegated to the side length of the main hall for ease of access and consistency of approach.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the check-in concourse is the partial open-to-below section which offers the passenger a view directly into the baggage claim hall and also allows for a good degree of natural light penetration into that space. Baggage claim areas are often overlooked, as I may have mentioned before, and Madrid-Barajas is certainly evidence of a successful way of dealing with this issue. The experience of departing should never trump the experience of arriving, as my supervisor has suggested. I completely agree. Many times so much emphasis is placed on meeting the needs of departing passengers that we forget that the arrival to and discovery of a new airport and place should be equally, if not more, exciting and awe-inspiring.
Recap of Day 4 at MAD T1
This post will be as short as my experience at Madrid T1. In other words, very short. Other than a pharmacy, which I now believe is essential for any airport to have, the best thing Madrid-Barajas T1 has going for it is its baggage claim area. This is not to say that the other areas of the airport were horrific, bad, or even mediocre, but rather that the baggage claim area stands out as a fairly well thought-out and charming little space.
First of all, you can see it as you’re walking down the transfer corridor! This is excellent because at least you know it exists and is not far away. The signage, unique to Madrid-Barajas, leads you where you need to go quickly and without too many twists and turns and ups and downs. The baggage claim area itself is not exactly new, but nor is it antiquated. It is a double-height space that does what any good baggage-claim zone should do: pack in as many carrousels as possible while still giving the passenger freedom to move and room to breath. Combine that with flat, low-to-the-floor carrousels, unique orb-like light fixtures, and totally unconventional-looking return air grilles on the ceiling, and you’re left with a practical, yet quirky approach to a space which often is not payed much attention to during the design process. It doesn’t take much to make a space more welcoming and less sterile, and Madrid T1 proves that.
Recap of Day 3 at JFK T4
Oh no!! Terribly behind schedule here. It’s now day 13 and I’m just about to summarize the evening I spent at JFK’s Terminal 4. Better late than never though, right? So, from what I recall…
John F. Kennedy’s Terminal 4 was designed by the starchitecture company SOM, who also designed Dulles’ security and Aerotrain levels, if you recall. This mid-90’s design uses the arced-roof approach over the departures level, and inversely over the arrivals level. In other words, if one were to combine the general roof forms of Pearson and Dulles, it would result in what you see at JFK’s T4. Unfortunately, the reason I don’t think the effect works as well on either level is simply because the spaces feel elongated width-wise. In other words, on the arrivals level, the dip of the roof seems too subtle to impress upon the passenger that sense of weight hanging from above. And on the departures level, the roof does not seem sufficiently arced to create that majestic sense of space you would encounter, say, at Beijing’s T3.
I also remember that the terminal was excessively crowded at 6pm. Mind you, it is probably one of the peak times to travel, but I still felt like I had to watch my every step for fear of walking into someone at any given moment. There were huge bottlenecks at security, for instance, but those I think are a direct result of locating the checkpoints at the two narrowest ends of the terminal. Many airports take advantage of the longer side of the terminal to create multiple security ‘aisles’ to process through passengers and carry-on luggage. Not the case here and this results is a very inefficient and frustrating experience for both passengers and security personnel (and not to mention retailers located very near the areas prone to massive congestion).
Besides mentioning that there was WAY TOO MUCH space afforded to retailers (but I suppose this may be a matter of personal preference), I will say that I did appreciate the use of a wide gates concourse. The best of course would be wide and tall, but if it can’t be double-height, then at least make it double-width, because I can’t imagine anything worse than making passengers sit in a narrow and short hallway while waiting to board their planes (see images of Dulles concourses). The travellators located down the centre of the space made a lot of sense, except for the fact that they only offered the option of travelling in one direction. There are a number of situations where this may become an inconvenience, one of which being a gate-change at the last minute.
Notice I’m speaking here more about spatial layout than the aesthetic elements of the architecture. This is precisely because, in this case, the aesthetic elements were somewhat underwhelming and ultimately generic. Spatially, the interesting push-back of security to allow for more access to shops and restaurants to everyone, including those not flying with their relative, friend, or colleague, is overshadowed by the chaotic nature of the checkpoints themselves. Perhaps this is an example of a brilliant concept that has been executed poorly. I’m curious to see how the same scenario plays out at Portland Int’l.
Day 4: MAD T4 - Madrid-Barajas International Airport, Madrid, Spain
Day 4: MAD T1 - Madrid-Barajas International Airport, Madrid, Spain
Day 3: JFK T4 - JFK International Airport, Queens, New York