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The design of passageways, the collection of spaces - such as corridors, travelators, and scalators is crucial for facilitating wayfinding and spatial orientation.

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Tags: airport design, wayfinding,
spatial configuration, directionality


Design Decisions

Airport terminals are complex buildings that must accommodate a wide range of functions and user groups. A particularly challenging aspect of terminal architecture is the design of passageways, the collection of spaces - such as corridors, travelators, and escalators - within which passengers navigate the airport [2]. The design solutions deployed in these spaces can facilitate wayfinding and spatial orientation for passengers, making passengers feel more at ease and thus willing to spend money in the commercial areas of the terminal building [3]. In contrast to the low ceilings and confined spaces of security and immigration, corridors in the passenger area are usually wide open, well-lit spaces [4]. However, a space that is more open than necessary produces challenges of its own:

“Overdesign, either as a simple expedient for avoiding future congestion or for the aesthetic of open spaces, can also be most expensive. For exam­ple, the decision to make the central corridor of the 180 m. long corridor of finger pier of the new two ­level Sydney 1TB 12m wide, instead of a feasible 6m, implied an extra capital cost of about US $4 million “ [2].

Current design guidelines suggest that every foot of passageway width should accommodate 16.5 passengers per minute [5]. This formula provides a rough guideline for the minimum free-flowing width to maintain around pinch points such as restaurant entrances and kiosks. Passageways often include subtle design features that help guide travelers through the airport.  Flooring materials and ceiling designs can include patterns oriented in the intended direction of travel, and natural or artificial lighting can be projected onto the path [6].

Effects on Passengers

A study conducted in Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport in 2008 on consumer preferences in the design of airport passenger terminals found that the most preferred passenger area features a wide, curvilinear floor plan; a curvilinear roof; a light-colored floor; warm, atmospheric lighting; the presence of plants or other greenery [1]. The key findings and relative weights of each design characteristic are summarized below:

“Passengers prefer the form of a curvilinear roof over that of an orthogonal roof (0.78), and clearly prefer the use of white materials over black materials (0.77). Passengers also preferred wood-coloured materials over black materials (0.37), but not as much as they preferred white materials over black materials. A curved layout is another design characteristic that is more important than dimensioning, wood-coloured materials, use of warm lighting and no decoration underscoring the distinctiveness of Holland, but its impact is comparable to that of greenery. In general, passengers preferred an area with a curvilinear roof, a curved hallway, the presence of greenery, no decoration emphasizing the distinctiveness of Holland, the use of warm lighting, a wide dimensioning and an emphasis on white materials (i.e. a white floor, shop atmospheric and roof)” [1].

While van Oel and van den Berkhof’s study found that passengers preferred designs with no reference to the ‘distinctiveness’ of the terminal's geographic location, other studies have found a positive relationship between expressions of national identity in the design of terminals and the delight of passengers [7]. 

  1. van Oel, Clarine J., and F. W. (Derk) van den Berkhof. “Consumer Preferences in the Design of Airport Passenger Areas.” Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol. 36, Dec. 2013, pp. 280–90. 
  2. Odoni, Amedeo R., and Richard de Neufville. “Passenger Terminal Design.” Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, vol. 26, no. 1, Jan. 1992, pp. 27–35.  
  3. Fewings, Rodney. “Wayfinding and Airport Terminal Design.” The Journal of Navigation, vol. 54, no. 2, May 2001, pp. 177–84. 
  4. Adey, Peter. “‘May I Have Your Attention’: Airport Geographies of Spectatorship, Position, and (Im)Mobility.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 25, no. 3, June 2007, pp. 515–36. 
  5. Horonjeff, Robert. Planning and Design of Airports, Fifth Edition. 5th ed, McGraw-Hill Companies, 2010.
  6. Hubregtse, Menno. Wayfinding, Consumption, and Air Terminal Design. 1st ed., Routledge, 2020.  
  7. Ariffin, Ahmad Azmi M., and Mohd Fahmi Yahaya. “The Relationship between Airport Image, National Identity and Passengers Delight: A Case Study of the Malaysian Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT).” Journal of Air Transport Management, vol. 31, Elsevier Ltd, 2013, pp. 33–36.