Add to this the fact that Medina was built and designed as a facility for Hajj pilgrims, (inexperienced flyers who surge through the facilities at specific times of year) and it can be seen that the cultural references for airport design don’t just acknowledge local history in their architectural expression, but also in their planning. Conversely Ballard had no time for the past and looked forward. He recognised that for the operator the airport terminal is a means to an end. Its purpose is to process passengers, and as many as possible. This is an efficient and ruthless money making machine, dictating that the plan of both the terminal, and the capacity offered by the configuration and flexibility of the departure gates are paramount and central to long term success.
The success of stylistic gestures is harder to evaluate. An apparent contradiction to the speed and efficiency of ‘processing’ now lies in the retail and leisure components that are increasingly apparent in large airports. Here we are creating a world of temporary ‘stage-sets’ within their more fixed shell and core construction. In terms of ‘fit-out’ almost anything goes as long as it is branded and themed. Larger airports are now offering hotel and office facilities within their terminals as well as luxurious gardens, a host of restaurants and increasingly exotic retail offers. This means that the airport can now hold and contain visitors for days rather than hours. ‘Super-hubs’ like Istanbul will aim to retain passengers for longer periods of time where they can use the ready-made vacation facilities on offer and add to their profitability.
In submitting a competition entry for Long Thanh in Vietnam, Scott Brownrigg has referenced Vietnamese culture in their entry and developed the design around the specific character and personality of this country. The form of the building references and respects the vernacular traditions that have informed Vietnamese architecture through the centuries. Climate has been a fundamental consideration for the Vietnamese builder. Form and function combined with the availability of specific local materials has led to a great tradition of roof construction offering shade and shelter, as well as a response to the heavy rainfall of the monsoon season.
The competition entry has learnt from these traditions whilst interpreting them in a modern and contemporary manner. The undulations of the roofs whilst controlling rainwater run-off in the wet season, reference the sinuous terraces of the indigenous landscape, the undulations of fluttering silk ribbons and the curvatures of a dragons’ back.
All in all the architectural form of the competition entry synthesises and distils the unique sense of place embodied in contemporary Vietnam and expresses it in a strong but abstract statement that embodies the culture of this unique country.
As our world moves faster and it is increasingly hard to hold on to a sense of individualism and identity there is a growing need amongst people for a cultural thread or narrative to inform and richen their lives. Airports and their architecture offer a chance to engage with the notions of place, nationality and history whilst still operating as high- tech factories for the safe processing of passengers in an increasingly unstable global environment.