Architecture/airport question: why get a simple thing so wrong?

Sorry for my clunky thread title, please suggest a better one.

I don’t fly much, haven’t been in airports too much. I haven’t studied architecture.

I did fly this past June from Raleigh-Durham (RDU). The terminal I left from is brand new, very pretty. Very simple too. One long rectangle with gates all along it.

My gate was at one of the ends of the rectangle, along with about 4 other gates, all radiating off the end of the rectangle, each gate having seats, as well as common seats in the middle of all of them.

As I waited, almost all the nearby seats at all the nearby gates filled up. Then three or four planes began boarding about the same time. The result was an enormous clusterfuck of all these people bunched at the end of the terminal trying to thread themselves into lines headed into the proper gate.

Not enough room had been left for forming lines, especially not when more than one gate was in use.

Eventually I made it on to my plane, but had plenty of time in line to wonder how such a malfunctioning design came into being.

In Designing Airports 101 surely the first point they make is “your job is to get people from the inside of the airport to the inside of the airplane as easily as possible”

There are thousands of airports in the world, surely this design challenge has been addressed many times. How could a brand new airport in the first world have such a basic error?

That sounds more like a scheduling error than an architechtural fault. If all four planes were there and were on time, someone needs a good poking with a sharp stick. But, if the jetway at a gate breaks down, or one flight is delayed, you can easily have some localized chaos.

That is pretty much standard everywhere although it does sound like there was scheduling making the worst of a bad design.

I flew through the old Stapleton Airport in Denver during the early '80s. I was flying on United; it seemed like they had dozens of flights all arriving with a few minutes of each other, and then all departing within a few minutes about an hour later. I figured that was part of the hub-and-spoke routes they went to after such things were deregulated; planes arrive from all over the country, the passengers get out and find their connecting flight, then the planes depart to the whole country.

I don’t see any carriers currently using Raleigh-Durham as a hub, but it has been in the past. I’d expect the facilities to be able to handle it.

I would think there’s a bit more to it than that. There’s bound to be a part of the process, a bottleneck, that limits the number of passengers who can pass through the airport. Maybe the road leading on to the property needs more lanes. Maybe they need more check-in desks and kiosks. Maybe there aren’t enough seats near the gates. Or maybe you get through all that in record time and sit in a line of planes waiting to take off. I would think that getting the capacity right for each stage would be a major challenge for an architect.

The industry is still changing, and it’s very rare for a state-of-the-art airport to be built from scratch. You take what you’ve got and adapt it the best you can.

I was flying out of Heathrow once and the terminal seemed different than any other I’ve ever been through. There was one common waiting area, with restaurants and bookshops and such, and when they’d call your flight you’d walk the quarter-mile out the finger pier and get on. It was kinda like a food court in a mall; all the eateries need tables so you might as well share them. It’s better than scattering the restaurants throughout the mall and letting some sit empty while others are over-full. Seemed to work.

For years our local airport featured an observation deck with an obstructed view, so you couldn’t see planes actually land or take off. A minor thing, but still.

When Mont-Royal metro station – a central station in a popular commercial and residential district here in town – was overhauled about ten years ago, they made the congestion problems even worse; rather than expand the entrance building and add more turnstiles and more space, they moved the turnstiles down to the cramped mezzanine level, which must now accommodate not only the turnstiles but also a ticket booth, ticket machines, line-ups, etc.

I understand – and this may have been garbled somewhere along the line – that the architect who oversaw the project was aghast when he saw the result, because he had no idea that the station was that busy. Which means he redesigned the station without ever seeing its ridership figures.

Perhaps the way this ended up working was the way that was best for the planes and the crew on the ground, and the passengers’ comfort, while waiting, was the last thing to be considered, if at all.

I’m betting it’s a combination of these two factors.

So many times people want to jump to the delivery part of a project without ever defining the requirements. (It’s a xxxxxx, just build it)

I think in architecture, there is a serious lack of Post-Occupancy Reviews. Ideally, after any project, someone would go back and say, “Okay, now that you’re USING it, how is this design working? What would you change?” and get that kind of feedback from a broad spectrum of inhabitants/workers/passengers/etc. And that should be cycled back to the architects, AND be kept for consideration any time anyone else is thinking of designing a similar building. This just doesn’t seem to happen. One critic speculated that its because it’s ego-bruising for architects to hear about problems, but that is just weak sauce for an excuse.

Also, some of this isn’t architecture; there has to be a reasonable way to line people up to get on a plane, but no one bothers to figure that out or make it happen.

It probably doesn’t help that people don’t line up when they’re told to they cluster up waiting to be called forming a line backed by a mob.

I thought it was “get beaten with split bamboo canes until you hate the world and want everyone to suffer”. That seems to be the driving force behind the architecture of most airports I’ve been in. (“Most” because some were just too small for creative torture and had to rely on the planes themselves to handle it.)

I’ve been to RDU and I think the OP is drastically overselling the design flaw.

American, and later Midway Airlines, used RDU as a hub in the 90s, but the terminal building they used (Terminal C) was torn down and replaced with the terminal carlotta flew out of, Terminal 2.

Interestingly, the reason that C was replaced was that the old facility was designed with hub traffic in mind, and so handled large numbers of connecting passengers reasonably well, but was unable to accommodate traffic patterns that involved mostly local passengers, so Terminal 2 was built with more security lanes, etc., but perhaps with less of an eye to massive crowds in the building all at the same time.

Same here. I was just there yesterday and it seemed like pretty much any other airport.

You underestimate the role of ego in architecture. It’s not an obstacle; it’s a driving force. An architect with a normal ego could never build anything.

Like violence in hockey, egotism is an integral part of the enterprise. Except that there’s no penalty box for architects.

“A doctor can bury his mistakes. An architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.” - Frank Lloyd Wright

It’s fun to snipe at architects’ egos, but something like an airport concourse is much more a work of engineering than architecture. The airport authority undoubtedly hired one of the big consultants like HOK, who may have reviewed the program and attendant costs with the airport board, asking them to choose how many simultaneous boardings to plan for. The consultant has tried-and-tested formulas for floor space and seats per gate, but never modeled all the idiots from Boarding Group 5 who insist on crowding around the gate agent while Group 2 is boarding because, apparently, there’s a chance that they’ll start handing out free iPads to whoever’s standing closest.

The problem is that architects don’t read this book or other similar ones. Seriously, human engineering is grossly neglected. You still see new public buildings with men’s and women’s rooms having the same area despite it being well known that the women’s rooms need to be larger.

It could very well be that it works fine if planes aren’t scheduled at the same time, but that’s no excuse. There will be times when they overlap. Plan on it.

Betcha can’t tell that I’ve had my share of fights with architects over the years.

Which is not difficult to anticipate to anyone who has flown in the last, say 10 years.

This is the whole point of human engineering. You design for the people you have, not the people you want to have.

The problem here, too is that you’re blaming people for natural human instinct. People know that plans are overbooked, and there isn’t going to be enough room for their bags, since half the crowd is carrying on too much, and the attendants aren’t stopping them. They will try to slip in ahead of their group, or be the first ones in their group.

If you want better order, you have to have a better system design.

Not a station, but the building where I worked in Seville was all glass. No blinds (venetian blinds were added eventually). Very little shadow. The desks were oriented in such a way that people faced either East or West: until the blinds were added, there were several hours/day when half the workers couldn’t see their screens because of the glare; people were working with sunglasses and caps on. The garden, all of it grasses and trees which in Spain do not happen naturally more than 20 miles from the Bay of Biscay, was designed to use rainfall; Seville’s annual rainfall is 534mm, or 21 inches; some months, the rainfall doesn’t reach half an inch.

Note to companies from Seville: either don’t buy blueprints from English firms, or check them to make sure the blueprints haven’t been designed for London’s weather!