The fundamental design of an airport hasn’t changed much since commercial aviation took off after World War II. Much of the reason for that is the fact the fundamental design of commercial airplanes hasn’t changed much either.
When a Denver architecture firm held a design contest for the airport of the future, it wanted students to imagine an airport serving whatever kind of aircraft they could imagine. No one wanted to limit designs to the airplanes we fly in today, or we will fly in during the foreseeable future.
More than 200 entries were submitted. Designs were evaluated on creative approach, response to site, sustainability and functionality, according to Fentress Architects, the company behind the competition.
First place was awarded to Oliver Andrew, a student at London South Bank University. Andrew’s winning concept includes prefabricated triangular islands that would be placed in the River Thames near London.
The modular design allows for airports of varying sizes built on concrete islands that could be anchored just about anywhere there is water. Andrew’s airport would be served entirely by public transportation. And this being the future, there are no tickets or check-in desks because travelers are directed to their gates by tickets on their phones.
The concept sounds feasible, actually. Airports already are being built on man-made islands, and public transportation is common at many hubs. Even smartphone ticketing and check-in is in widespread use.
But one glance at the triangular island airports make you wonder, “Where are the runways?” This is where Andrew’s imaginative vision kicks in. Freed from the constraint of conventional aircraft, which require runways more than a mile long, Andrew based his design on “vertical takeoff with hypersonic jets capable of flying at the edge of space.”
The judges praised Andrew for his incorporation of public transportation, and they also liked the floating islands that reduce the amount of land needed.
There is, however, the possibility that by the time vertical takeoff, hypersonic aircraft are flying us to our next vacation, traditional cars and personal transportation won’t be much of an issue because we’ll all be flying in robotic quadcopters or being chauffeured in robotic cars.
LAX of the future includes airships and nearby algae farms to grow fuel stock. Image: Fentress Architects
Second place went to another Londoner, one who redesigned Los Angeles International Airport to include nearby algae farms as a fuel source then gave it a retro touch by incorporating airships.
Vertical takeoff also was featured prominently in the third-place entry. A California student imagined making the tops of skyscrapers into “pocket airports.” The judges liked the idea of using existing infrastructure, an idea that recalls the days when airships would be moored to skyscrapers.
But the “pocket airport” design would combine several aerospace dreams. The designer imagines airports served by electric hypersonic sub-orbital aircraft with the convenience of vertical takeoff and landing. The sketch above shows air, or spacecraft that looks like something Scaled Composites might build. Not a bad place to crib some ideas from, actually.
The winning entries generated many inspired ideas without being limited to current technologies, which was a prime goal. Fentress Architects specializes in airport design and plans on using the entries as part of an art exhibit that will travel the world.