Flight delays are less painful inside a gorgeous, well-designed airport. Some of the world’s most beautiful and amazing airports are here.
1. Beijing International Airport
Envision a majestic space, two miles long, shaped like a dragon. Above, a flurry of reds and yellows color a dizzying mesh ceiling, backlit by the sun, and below, 50 million people pass each year. This building, one of the world’s largest, is no palace or museum—it’s Terminal 3 at Beijing International Airport.
The Beijing International Airport has been ranked the second busiest airport next only to Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport, after reporting a 13 percent growth in passenger travel compared to 2009.
2. Barajas Airport, Madrid
Designed by Richard Rogers Partnership, Terminal 4 opened in 2006. Its colorful pylons supporting an undulating bamboo-lined roof create a series of daylight-filled canyons in which both arriving and departing passengers pass through one spectacular space, albeit on different levels. The terminal, designed to handle 35 million passengers a year, is Madrid’s bid to become Europe’s dominant air-hub.
Terminal4 is easy to understand because it’s linear. “Rogers puts you inside a rainbow that stretches for half a mile,” says architecture critic Paul Goldberger.
3. TWA Terminal, John F. Kennedy Airport
Granted, you haven’t been able to fly out of Eero Saarinen’s 1962 landmark terminal in nearly a decade. But its poured-concrete swoops and curves, a lyric poem to the romance of flight, still set the standard for today’s leading architects who want to return to—as Saarinen said—architecture that would “express the excitement of air travel.”
Beauty Mark: Eventually you’ll be able to walk through the old TWA terminal and its 125-foot-long tubular passageways to check into your flight in the adjacent JetBlue terminal.
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4. Carrasco International Airport, Montevideo
The new terminal, opened in 2009 and designed by Uruguayan-born architect Rafael Viñoly. A 1,000-foot-long, low arch, it is as simple as a child’s drawing of an airport, one unbroken, graceful curve. Inside, the departures hall is a great, sunlit room, like an old train station, and a top floor terrace commands sweeping views of the runways.
Beauty Mark: Viñoly notes that in Uruguay “friends and family still come to greet you at the airport or see you off.” The terraces and lounges are designed to be “dramatic and welcoming” for both ticketed passengers and their guests.
5. Sondika Airport, Bilbao
This Santiago Calatrava–designed airport, built in 2000, is nicknamed La Paloma, or the Dove, for its birdlike silhouette. Inside, the terminal is nakedly sculptural, an unadorned study in sunlight and the rhythmic patterns created by its concrete ribs. “It struck me like a contemporary Gaudí kind of place,” says Design Within Reach founder Rob Forbes, “fully in keeping with the Spanish/Basque/Catalan tradition of ‘modern baroque.'”
Beauty Mark: Even the parking garage, partially buried in a green hillside, is well thought out and beautiful.
6. Incheon International Airport
Since its opening in 2001, Incheon, designed by Denver’s Fentress Architects, has been a frequent presence at the number one spot on lists of the world’s best airports. Not only is it efficient and welcoming, it is intended to be a showcase of Korean culture.
Beauty Mark: Visit the Pine Tree Garden in Millennium Hall and the Wildflower Garden in the basement of the Transportation Center.
7. Marrakech Menara Airport
This dramatic new airport terminal is an example of how Modernism and traditional Islamic architecture have begun to cross-pollinate. Designed by a team of architects led by Casablanca-based E2A Architecture and completed in 2008, the structure is formed of massive concrete rhombuses.
Beauty Mark: There are 72 photovoltaic pyramids generating power on the roof.
8. Chek Lap Kok Airport
Compared with the spectacular Beijing airport, this 1998 Foster + Partners project is relatively humble. Its beauty can be attributed to its extraordinary functionality. Even the sleepiest passenger off the 17-hour flight from New York can maneuver through this airport with eyes half open.
Beauty Mark: The train to Hong Kong Central is right in the main terminal building and impossible to miss. Departing Hong Kong, passengers can simply drop their bags at the train station downtown, and not only will they make it to the airport, they’ll also be checked onto the departing flight.
9. Tempelh of International Airport, Berlin
Made famous by the Berlin Airlift of 1948–1949, the airport was shut down in 2008; the airfield will be used as an immense city park while the terminal will be preserved for cultural functions.
Beauty Mark: In about seven years, this 568-acre green space will eclipse the famous Tiergarten as Berlin’s premier park.
10. Malvinas Argentinas Airport
This is the world’s southernmost international airport. Its beauty is largely a function of its natural setting—flights here come in low over the majestic Andes Mountains—and its role as a gateway to Patagonia and the Antarctic.