Airports are due for an overhaul in the post-pandemic world as travelers demand a better focus on health and safety.
Gensler; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
  • The coronavirus pandemic is encouraging architects to imagine the airports of the future as the downturn is opening new opportunities for the industry. 
  • Fentress Architects held a contest among university students to design next-generation airports while Gensler designed an open-concept alternative to the iconic Washington Dulles International Airport terminal. 
  • Individuality is a key tenet with private pods and high-speed transportation modes shuttling passengers to and from airports while simultaneously performing security checks. 
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

The coronavirus pandemic has presented the aviation industry with an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine how travellers take to the skies, starting with the airport experience. 

A large reduction in daily passenger numbers has given airports an abundance of time and space to implement new temporary safety features, but the fact remains that airports weren't built to handle a pandemic. 

Architecture firms Gensler and Fentress Architects are using the downturn in travel to envision what future airports may look like. Gensler recently took up a challenge by Washington Magazine to redesign local public areas while Fentress Architects turned to university students to design the airports of 2100 as part of this year's Fentress Global Challenge. 

Airport planning is already shifting towards built-in resilience to global health crises, even if it's too late to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, and airports of the future will need to address the possibility of another pandemic. New York's LaGuardia Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport both opened new terminals during the pandemic that came complete with plexiglass partitions, hundreds of hand sanitiser stations, and social distancing reminders. 

Take a look at what the future of airports might entail as transportation hubs cope with new safety demands from the public in a pandemic-stricken world. 

Some current-day airports are finding themselves without enough space to effectively handle social distancing concerns as passenger numbers slowly rebound to 2019 levels, potentially leading to unsafe conditions where passengers are within six feet of each other.

Charlotte-Douglas International Airport in June 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Only temporary solutions have been put into place to mitigate concerns of spreading the virus inside an airport terminal, chief among them face covering requirements, which is far from mandatory in every US airport. Plus, enforcement is often difficult with exceptions for eating and drinking.

New York's LaGuardia Airport in June 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Other solutions include plexiglass partitions separating airport employees from passengers...

The new Salt Lake City International Airport.
Salt Lake City International Airport

Hand sanitiser and wipe stations...

New York's LaGuardia Airport in June 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

And UV cleaners for frequently touched surfaces.

New York's LaGuardia Airport in June 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Most airports aren't prepared in the long-term for extended pandemics. That's why architects are examining how to design airports differently, and redesign existing structures.

Washington Dulles International Airport in June 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Architecture firm Gensler recently took a look at Washington Dulles International Airport to see how its iconic terminal could be repurposed in the post-COVID-19 era.

Washington Dulles International Airport.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The design included a new headhouse to handle departing passengers and converting the iconic Eero Saarinen-designed building into a lounge and retail area in which passengers can wait for their flight.

A rendering for a possible future Washington Dulles Airport by Gensler.
Gensler

The removal of airline ticket counters would create bounds of open space, alleviating social distancing concerns while maintaining the 1960s-era terminal.

A rendering for a possible future Washington Dulles Airport by Gensler.
Gensler

Aircraft gates would then be located in satellite terminals away from the main building and passengers would be transported there via individual autonomous vehicles, inside of which security inspection and border controls would also take place.

A rendering for a possible future Washington Dulles Airport by Gensler.
Gensler

Letting people move about as individuals plays a large role in these designs for obvious social distancing concerns.

A rendering for possible future Los Angeles International Airport.
Fentress Architects/Lucy Janik, LAX Relocation – Design of the Future Floating Airport, Cracow University of Technology, Kraków, Poland

Lining up in queues for airport trains or shuttles would be replaced by pods carrying individuals or single families.

A rendering for possible future Hong Kong International Airport.
Fentress Architects/CGC, HK22, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

New public transportation technology, including hyperloops, would ensure individuals could be transported at the same speeds as groups without incurring delays.

A rendering for a hyperloop system that extends to an airport.
Fentress Architects/Oporajeyo, The City Lungs, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Hyperloop has been pitched as a way to connect London's Gatwick and Heathrow airports, allowing for transfers between the two in minutes, easing congestion at both airports and giving travellers the option to easily use both without having to travel further to one or the other.

A rendering for a possible future airport in Tokyo.
Fentress Architects/M3DMA, Tokyo Gate, Gdansk University of Technology, Gdansk, Poland

A design for a new Amsterdam Airport Schiphol calls for expanded canal access for travellers to arrive by boat, similar to Venice's Marco Polo Airport.

A rendering for a possible future Schiphol International Airport.
Fentress Architects/Schiphol International, Amsterdam Schiphol International, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

Another popular Dutch activity, cycling, would also be accommodated.

A rendering for a possible future Schiphol International Airport.
Fentress Architects/Schiphol International, Amsterdam Schiphol International, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

Designs for the new airport, dubbed "Schiphol International Airport," would better segregate arriving and departing passengers to ease congestion.

A rendering for a possible future Schiphol International Airport.
Fentress Architects/Schiphol International, Amsterdam Schiphol International, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

Airports are also being designed to be flexible to the changing landscape of aviation, especially as new designs seek to upend the traditional notion of airplanes.

A rendering for a possible future Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Fentress Architects/Baniya, The Green Gateway, Southern California Institute of Architecture, Los Angeles, California, USA

While mile-long runways are required for most aircraft today, they might be obsolete in the near-future as vertical take-off and land aircraft become more widespread.

A rendering for a possible future Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Fentress Architects/Baniya, The Green Gateway, Southern California Institute of Architecture, Los Angeles, California, USA

Building vertically is also a popular design, with many space-constrained urban airports finding themselves unable to expand laterally.

A rendering for a possible future Hong Kong International Airport.
Fentress Architects/CGC, HK22, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Designers of the new Terminal B at LaGuardia had no choice but to go vertical, as the airport's small perimeter limited design possibilities.

New York's LaGuardia Airport in June 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Departing passengers arrive on the third level and ascend to the top floor after going through security, where eateries and retail shops are located, before crossing one of two sky bridges that connect to the concourses.

New York's LaGuardia Airport in June 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Building up also allows airports to be located directly in the heart of some cities, including Shanghai, as this design from the University of Toronto proposes.

A rendering for a possible future airport in Shanghai.
Fentress Architects/ Crab, A Peak in Shanghai, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

The relationship between airports and their surroundings is also changing and the idea of a sustainable airport would be to have an airfield coexist with nature, instead of destroying it with harmful construction.

A rendering for a possible future airport in Chicago.
Fentress Architects/RIE, O’Pon on the Hill, Yogyakarta University of Technology, Indonesia

This design for an airport to replace Chicago's O'Hare International Airport seeks to replace the sprawling, ever-growing airport with a circular "vertiport."

A rendering for a possible future airport in Chicago.
Fentress Architects/RIE, O’Pon on the Hill, Yogyakarta University of Technology, Indonesia

This design for a new LAX brings the idea of an airport back to its roots, with the iconic Southern California gateway situated in the middle of a seaport.

A rendering for possible future Los Angeles International Airport.
Fentress Architects/Lucy Janik, LAX Relocation – Design of the Future Floating Airport, Cracow University of Technology, Kraków, Poland

Airports may not even need to be on land: Some designs call for floating structures, including this design for a single-runway modular airport.

A rendering for a future possible modular airport.
Fentress Architects/Praxis, Modular Floating Airport, Singapore University of Technology & Design, Singapore

Floating airports, as proposed by this alternative to Singapore Changi Airport, replace the need for environmentally harmful land reclamation.

A rendering for a future possible Singapore Changi Airport.
Fentress Architects/Arch YiYang, The Vertebrae, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Planes would be stored under the terminal, and utilise numerous perpendicular runways below.

A rendering for a future possible Singapore Changi Airport.
Fentress Architects/Arch YiYang, The Vertebrae, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A design for Hong Kong International Airport calls for a "floating aero city."

A rendering for a future possible Hong Kong International Airport.
Fentress Architects/W.A.D, Floating Aero City, Beijing Jiaotong University, Beijing, China

Tidal energy from waterways in the Pearl River Delta would be used to power the sustainable airport, which utilises circular runways.

A rendering for a future possible Hong Kong International Airport.
Fentress Architects/W.A.D, Floating Aero City, Beijing Jiaotong University, Beijing, China

And as aviation turns to zero-emission solutions, airports are also being designed as greenhouses.

A rendering for a future possible Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Fentress Architects/Baniya, The Green Gateway, Southern California Institute of Architecture, Los Angeles, California, USA

The relationship with nature is more pronounced at airports in regions that struggle with their carbon footprint, including this design for an overgrown Indira Gandhi International Airport in India.

A rendering for a future possible Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Fentress Architects/Oporajeyo, The City Lungs, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Most of these airport designs rely on advances in aviation in order to fulfil their promises.

A rendering for possible future Los Angeles International Airport.
Fentress Architects/ Lucy Janik, LAX Relocation – Design of the Future Floating Airport, Cracow University of Technology, Kraków, Poland

Modern-day aircraft require an excess of space to manoeuvre and can't easily land on complicated indoor or circular runways that require precision flying.

A rendering for a possible future Schiphol International Airport.
Fentress Architects/Schiphol International, Amsterdam Schiphol International, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

Airports can, however, use these examples as a baseline to incorporate more sustainable ideas into their construction while also considering the fact that pandemics are unavoidable, and can badly disrupt any industry.

A rendering for a future possible Singapore Changi Airport.
Fentress Architects/Arch YiYang, The Vertebrae, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Ty Osbaugh, director of aviation and transportation projects at Gensler, told Business Insider that the mistake for airports would be to wait years to implement meaningful changes. The right time to invest in new infrastructure is now, he said, while passenger numbers are down and inconvenience is minimised.

A rendering for a future possible Singapore Changi Airport.
Fentress Architects/Arch YiYang, The Vertebrae, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Overseas airports will likely lead, having an abundance of space to build airports, but the trend will soon follow in the US, according to Osbaugh.

A rendering for a future possible
Fentress Architects/Marklin Huynh, Istanbul International Airport Asian Terminal, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

The world is anxious to return to the skies, but travellers want to know that they're being protected when flying. Until they feel safe, passenger numbers on commercial flights will likely stay depressed.

A rendering for a future possible Singapore Changi Airport.
Fentress Architects/Arch YiYang, The Vertebrae, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The airport of the future doesn't have to wait for flying cars and autonomous VTOL aircraft to be built. It just requires creativity, investment, and dedication.

A rendering for a future possible Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Fentress Architects/Sejkul, Drive-In Airport, Faculty of Architecture, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Receive a daily news update on your cellphone. Or get the best of our site emailed to you.

Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.