High-Design Airport Terminals

Dubai Airports

They can’t help you bypass delays, but these 10 exceptional spaces are so inspiring, you may feel moved before ever leaving the ground.

Whether located in major metropolises or small rural areas, airports are undergoing decidedly design-focused transformations—21st-century remakes that are ushering in a more aesthetically and environmentally conscious era of air travel.

“Airports built back in the ’70s and ’80s were boxy, utilitarian places that were about as inspired as your average Safeway store—they literally had the same ceiling tiles and lighting,” says Curtis Fentress, principal at leading aviation design firm Fentress Architects. “It’s no wonder that air travel evolved from a glamorous pursuit into an unavoidable trudge.”

Somewhere along the way, however, urban planners got hip to the idea that their airports could function not just as transport hubs, but as beautiful, functional works of art that reflect the energy, vibrancy and culture of the regions they serve. Today terminals in almost every major destination have either completed expansions or are in the process of renovating. The primary goal may be to process the tens (and even hundreds) of millions of passengers expected to move through their gates and corridors in the next decade or so, but planners are also on a mission to leave those passengers with unforgettable impression.

While some architects hired to concept new airport terminals are inspired by waves, boulders or other local topography (LAX’s Tom Bradley Terminal, “The Rock” in Wellington, New Zealand), others wanted to lead with a strong cultural aesthetic (Mumbai’s new Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Marrakech-Menara Airport in Morroco).

The thoughtful design exemplified by the ten terminals on our list may just become the norm, proving that air travel really isn’t what it used to be—in the best possible ways.