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8 May 2015

A Conversation With HOK’s Marion White, Regional Leader of Aviation + Transportation

Marion White, Regional Leader of Aviation + TechnologyMarion White, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, is a regional leader of HOK’s Aviation + Transportation practice based in New York. In this Q+A, White discusses trends and challenges in aviation and transportation facility design.

A challenge facing the aviation industry is the increasing load factors. How do architects design to increase airport capacity?

MW: Load factors for domestic airlines historically have been about 70 percent, so most facilities have been sized to fit that population. In recent years however, airline mergers and flight consolidations have contributed to increased load factors during peak hours as high as 85 to 95 percent.

At the Salt Lake City International Airport, that translates to about 400 additional people in an hour. This affects nearly every aspect of operating the terminal, including check-in, security, baggage handling, and basic passenger services and amenities. HOK’s team is designing the new passenger terminal at Salt Lake City to accommodate more passengers and larger aircraft.

Salt Lake City AirportSalt Lake City International Airport’s flexible new terminal will support the region’s growth while setting a new environmental benchmark for aviation hubs.

New technology has offset the need for additional space in areas like check-in, immigration and security. Though load factors are going up, integrating new technology provides speed and efficiency gains.

Terminals may need to be larger, but planners also need to recognize the changing dynamics of check-in, security and waiting areas. In response, designers need to provide an architectural framework with the flexibility to re-distribute and shift space within the existing footprint.

With technology becoming increasingly important in terminal design, how would you describe “a smart airport?”

When I hear this term, I immediately think of smart phones. Just as our smart phones have apps and customization options that help each individual user, smart airports are designed to respond to each person’s unique needs. Smart phones also enhance the traveler’s experience in airports by providing mobile check-in, boarding passes, flight alerts and wayfinding to commercial amenities.

Smart airportSmart airports are designed to respond to each person’s unique needs.

The smart, connected airport is well-planned, customizable, intuitive and responsive to passenger needs and airport operations. A smart airport can recalibrate to accommodate new needs in this constantly changing industry.

We use airport systems that respond to the passengers’ physical presence. Smart airports have GPS systems, beacons and sensors that track the location of travelers and their bags. High-performance building enclosure systems modulate natural light and maximize energy benefits and water conservation.

Airports and transportation facilities are differentiating themselves by offering unique passenger experiences. What trends are you seeing?

Airports and transit hubs have a captive audience. In addition to providing a smooth, enjoyable travel experience, owners and operators are exploring more revenue-producing opportunities. These facilities cater to many different interests and operate 24 hours a day.

Airports are offering experiences like movie theaters, live performances and workout facilities. The passenger terminal complex that HOK designed at Hamad International Airport in Doha has a public mosque, world-class art exhibits, luxury shopping, health spas, a lap pool and two hotels.

Hamad International AirportHamad International Airport Passenger Terminal elevates passenger convenience with health, recreation and entertainment services.

Facilities are embracing their regional identities by offering concession options from local businesses. They are also incorporating the work from local artists and museums.

With the ability to learn more about passengers through social media and data accumulation, our clients are looking at positive ways to use that information. If they know the reasons people are traveling, they can make simple but meaningful accommodations for passengers and build more customer loyalty.

How are airport terminals and railway stations becoming more alike?

Because rail stations are typically more integrated into a city’s infrastructure, their passenger halls need to accommodate large numbers of people flowing freely through them. These passenger halls, such as the grand hall in Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, are constantly in motion.

Today, many airport terminal designers are emulating the atmosphere of the grand rail halls. They want to provide places of interest to keep passengers comfortable and engaged. Meanwhile, rail stations are becoming more retail-oriented and serving as amenity hubs within their communities.

Architects need to be innovative about creating flexible spaces in airport terminals and railway stations. With features like movable walls and pop-up accommodations, we can create facilities that adapt to the evolving needs of the transportation industry.