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Most frequent flyers don’t view the airport as an architectural wonder. In fact, the most travelers likely remember are the negative things — like having to wait in long security lines or settling for less-than-stellar, overpriced food.
Airports are keen on shedding that reputation, however, and want to serve as a respite from the unpleasantries of travel — and it shows in ambitious grand projects like the Zaha Hadid-designed terminal at Daxing International Airport in Beijing and the multi-billion dollar renovation of LaGuardia Airport in New York City. Fortunately, millions of travelers each day have the opportunity to enjoy these 12 beautiful airports that carefully balance beauty, form and function — making that next flight delay a little more enjoyable.
In 2016, Marrakech’s Menara Airport served over 4 million passengers — a sign of the city’s increasing importance as an international gateway to Africa — so it’s no surprise that Casablanca-based E2A Architecture led a 2008 expansion of the airport. Upon arrival, travelers are greeted by a modern airport that still pays homage to the strong cultural history of Morocco in the form of classical Islamic geometric patterns, high glass-domed ceilings and, of course, lots and lots of light.
The World’s Best Airport is frequently cited as being a destination in itself, so it’s no surprise that more than 58 million people passed through in 2016. At the end of this year, it’ll add the technologically-advanced Terminal 4 to its portfolio and expand its footprint further with the Jewel Complex in 2019. If you’re flying into SIN now, however, you’ll still be treated to the CPG-designed Terminal 3, which includes an expansive rectilinear roof that combines multi-layered ceiling panels, 919 skylights and high-tech “butterflies” to evoke a tropical rainforest canopy.
As the newest airport on the list, Hamad International Airport welcomed over 37.3 million travelers to Qatar in 2016. The airport’s massive departure hall is filled with an undulating super roof that was designed by HOK Architects. Arriving travelers get a dose of childhood nostalgia in the form of a 23-foot bronze Lamp Bear sculpture created by Swiss artist Urs Fischer.
HKG is one of the busiest airports in the world, with about 70.5 millions travelers passing through it each year. The land on which the airport stands was originally a mountainous island, but was expanded to four times its original size as part of a major reclamation program. The recently- built Midfield Concourse was designed by global architecture firm Aedas and incorporates an optimized glaze façade and dramatic north-facing lights all placed under a singular roof.
A worthy imitation of the Rocky Mountains, Denver International Airport serves more than 58.3 million passengers each year. Built in 1995 and designed by Curtis Fentress, its iconic tent-like roofline is created by a fabric roof that allows the interior space to be saturated by natural light. The airport is a major hub for several major carriers including United, Southwest and Frontier. It’s also considered to be the largest airport in the United States by total land area and includes 135 gates spread out over three concourses.
Otherwise known as Suvarnabhumi Airport to locals — pronouned Su-wa-na-poom and meaning “The Golden Land” — BKK serves over 55 million people each year. The main terminal, designed by Murphy/Jahn architects, includes a sweeping concourse ceiling with a series of large windows. There’s also a dedicated Buddhist pagoda located in the center, perfect for any Instagram photo sessions.
Located in the country of Azerbaijan, this airport is one of the smaller ones on the list, serving about 2.9 million passengers each year. Designed by Arup, its roof consists of tricorn shapes and is semi-transparent, while the interior is characterized by a series of oak-veneer “cocoons.”
Madrid-Barajas Airport currently serves more than 50.4 million people annually and is the largest airport in Spain. Its most recent addition — Terminal 4 — is a series of colorful yellow pylons made of steel that support a bamboo ceiling. Designed by architectural duo Antonio Lamela and Richard Rogers, the copious amount of natural light creates a tranquil space for weary travelers.
In just the past decade, PEK has quickly become one of the busiest airports in the world, serving more than 90 million passengers each year. Built in time for the 2008 Olympics, the Foster + Partner-designed Terminal 3 includes a soaring roof canopy that mimics the undulations of a Chinese dragon. It’s supported by a series of imposing red columns and is flooded with natural light, thanks to a generous helping of skylights.
Considered to be one of the busiest airports in North America, ORD serves over 70 million passengers annually. Those who travel through Terminal 1, which was designed by Helmut Jahn, are greeted by a neon tunnel art piece called Sky’s the Limit, created by Michael Hayden.
One of two airports serving the Greater Tokyo area, Haneda is a major hub with more than 80 million passengers passing through each year. Designed by famed Argentine architect César Pelli, the combination of tall ceilings, vast amounts of light and an emphasis on circular patterns is sure to make your jaw drop as soon as you disembark.
While there are many other beautiful airports that are more than worthy of your time, MSP makes the cut for its large collection of public art installations. In Terminal 2, travelers will have the opportunity to see “L’Etoile du Nord” by Philip Noyed, a six-foot-tall holographic rainbow vinyl with a crystal that casts tiny rainbows of light. With more than 37 million passengers passing through each year, MSP is sure to be an incredible destination for Minnesota-made art.
What is your favorite airport? Let us know in the comments below.
Featured image courtesy of Foster + Partners.
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