Saturday, October 18th, 2008

Review: New Indianapolis Airport Terminal – Part 2: Interior

This is the second installment in a multi-part series providing a comprehensive look at the new H. Weir Cook Terminal at Indianapolis International Airport. You can also read part one (the interior), part three (finishes and furnishes), part four (signage), part five (the artwork), part six (miscellaneous, or rethinking the airport as public space), and part seven (conclusion).

The two principal routes into the airport are via the parking garage, and from being dropped off in front of it. I only did the former, but found it a rather dramatic entry. Inside the garage, you are channeled to a central corridor leading to the airport. This isn’t just a boring walk but features an atrium like structure with artwork you can see here:

You can see the underside of the canopy I showed in the exterior review. Now this may not wow you, but when you compare it to the typical boring walk to the terminal, again you see how the designers added a nice touch.

On entering the terminal, the architects exploited the well-known trick of forcing you through a relatively confined space in order to heighten the sense of grand entry to the terminal. I can’t do this justice with my photos because I’m not good enough to get a picture that does justice to the immense size of the interior of the main terminal building. Frankly, my jaw hit the floor when I walked in. This is clearly a very dramatic entrance and one that will really make a great impression on people.

Here is a picture of the departures hall, or a slice of it anyway.

Wow, that’s good stuff. The sheer height of the ceiling impresses, as does the sheer spaciousness and vast openness of this facility. The skylights and white color scheme bathe the entire area in light. Someone described the terminal as “European” in its design. Well this shot illustrates one reason why. Rather than the traditional US long, horizontal bank of check-in counters pressed against the entry with too little space to navigate, this one features vertically oriented bays with lots and lots of space to move around in.

This shot shows the interior of the front facade, which is totally glass as you can see, plus a shot of the “tripod” style support columns. I hope this also helps to give a sense of the immensity of the structure.

Here we see a close up of one the entry doors. Again, very well executed in glass – clean and simple, but not boring.

Here’s a view the ticket counters. You’ll notice immediately the same motif as used for the exterior drop off canopy.

What can I say except this is great. The nice thing about this shot is that you can see the context of the check in counter within the massive space of the departures hall. It makes me think of walking up to a ticket window in Grand Central Terminal or another classic train station Great Hall. It hearkens back to a more civilized era of travel while being firmly part of the modern age.

But in a sense the best is yet to come. As you pass through the check in area to what at an ordinary airport would be a dreary, overcrowded security screening area, at the new IND to pass easily into a large circular area called the Civic Plaza

This is a huge pre-security shopping, dining, and relaxation area. It is both a place to capture a few last moments together before your loved one departs, a place to hang out waiting for that delayed planed to arrive when picking someone up, and, airport officials hope, a destination shopping area. You can see here also the art work suspended from the ceiling.

Here’s a view from the far side of the Civic Plaza looking back towards checkin.

You can see how this is really just one big space. Again, very different from the typical airport. Also, if you click to enlarge that picture so that you can better see the tower in the background, you’ll notice that the slope angle of the support piers in the interior of the terminal is identical to that used on the tower, just as I previously noted for the parking garage. While this might on the surface seem a bit facile, I think it really goes a long way to giving the entire terminal complex a strong sense of design harmony. It would be interesting to know exactly what that slope is and why the designers chose it.

I’ll have more Civic Plaza pictures in a later installment, but will note that there is comfy furniture to sit on, as well as tables to eat at our work on your laptop. The backside of the terminal is of course again a glass curtain wall that allows people to watch the planes and bathes the space in natural light. (It will be very interesting to see this at night).

Oh, one super-cool thing: you can actually see the skyline of the city in the distance. Enlarge the image below for details. Note that this was actually taken not from the Civic Plaza itself, but from the post-security corridor that links Concourse A and B and runs between the Civic Plaza and the wall of the building.

The retail in the airport is significantly upgraded. Civic Plaza features a Brooks Brothers, Johnston and Murphy, an Indy 500 Grill and Gift Shop, the Cultural Exchange (a gift shop with good from several local museums), and well-loved locals like Cafe Patachou.

From the central Civic Plaza, the airport splits into two more or less identical concourses. As I noted, these have a protected post-security connection, unlike in the old airport. Speaking of security, here is a shot of one of the screening areas. (The next two photos are courtesy of IndyTypeGuy)

Time will tell how this functions.

Here is a shot down one of the main concourses.

You can see that this is a pretty standard airport concourse. However, the designers did add a little visual relief through periodically exposing the support structure. These show as bands running perpendicular to the direction of the concourse. Here’s a closeup:

Items such as the furniture and the gate counters will be covered in a future installment.

Again, there is significantly upgraded retail in the concourse areas as well. Stores include Vera Bradley, Borders, the famous Shapiro’s Deli, and many more. This includes, of course, Starbucks. I also noted a spa. One store I found interesting was CNBC. There are multiple outlets of this. I wonder what they will be selling. Or is this the new CNBC Indianapolis Bureau? :) You decide.

Arriving passengers find this as their baggage claim area:

Again, what can be said except, it’s a baggage claim. This is a ho-hum space. I can’t remember the flow from the concourse to the baggage claim area. However, with the concourses and baggage claim the least impressive areas, the airport is not, I don’t think, going to wow the person for whom Indianapolis is the destination airport. The biggest impression is made for people coming in through the Departures Hall and Civic Plaza. This airport looks much better going than coming. To some extent, there’s not a lot that could be done about this. It’s true of most airports, and with the baggage claim area on the lower level as normal, it is not possible to reproduce the grand space upstairs. Still, I think there were probably opportunities to produce an upgraded baggage claim design that would have provided a better arrivals experience. Keep in mind, passengers are probably going to experience some wait time here, so making this experience as pleasant as possible is key. This would be one of my first targets for future upgrades.

Moving on, I’ll give you some shots of areas you’ll likely never get a chance to see. First is the ramp leading to the baggage claim automation under the terminal.

Even though it is not publicly accessible, it still looks like some design thought went into it. This is where you see whether someone cares. Do they only make things look good on the surface, or does quality permeate everything they do? It is tough to have good table manners when guests in are in the house if you don’t have them when you dine alone. So I was very pleased to see this not bad ramp.

Here is the sorting equipment itself.

Given the well-publicized baggage handling fiascoes at other new terminals, let’s hope this works right, and does so out of the gate.

Lastly, the new airport has a proper international arrivals setup. While there are admittedly very few international flights, one day that might change, and having a real setup is critical to being taken seriously.

First, here’s passport control.

And here’s the secondary screening area for Customs and the Department of Agriculture.

I was very fortunate to find this area open on the tour, though admittedly with a heavy security presence, since normally these are highly restricted.

On the whole, the interior of the terminal is very nice. The entry in the Departures Hall and the Civic Plaza is particularly stunning. While again the jury is still out on functionality, this looks like a very intelligent layout that will hopefully work well. The concourses and baggage claim are a rather standard, but on the whole this is an extremely successful design. I like it better than the exterior as you can no doubt tell.

Dare I say it, a facility this nice might actually make it fun to fly again. Again, it reminds me a little of a grand train station in a modern way, and you can see where some of that romance of flying, the sense that you are doing something special, might rear its head. I dread stepping into most airports, but this is one that I think would be a pleasure to be in, at least as far as it is possible these days.

The question I have is whether or not the city can actually support this terminal. The terminal was clearly built with future traffic volumes and growth in mind. There are huge number of restaurants and shops. But IND only sees like 8 million passengers per year. This looks like an airport designed to support more like 18 million. Will all of these shops survive? What will the experience be like when the airport is mostly deserted? The crowd at the open house as you can see from the pictures was heavy, but not overly so. This really filled the terminal with energy and life. But will it always be that way? If the old terminal is any judge, No. This is certainly a facility the city is going to have to grow into. Hopefully there won’t be too many growing pains along the way. In the meantime, the city can enjoy this great new asset.

Topics: Architecture and Design, Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

15 Responses to “Review: New Indianapolis Airport Terminal – Part 2: Interior”

  1. Anonymous says:

    8 million vs 18 million,maybe the people running the airport know something you don’t…I know you would find that hard to believe.but could be.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Unless someone decides to build a hub at IND it will never see 18M passengers.

    What happens when DL/NWA abandon the focus?

    Passenger counts drop by 1M

  3. The Urbanophile says:

    I wasn't my intent to be precise with numbers, merely to illustrate that the airport appears to be designed with significant growth in mind. I do wonder if all of those retailers will survive.

    IND is the airport for a huge part of the state of Indiana. So it is always going to have decent O&D traffic. This limits the downside potential for the airport versus places that are hubs. Just ask Pittsburgh or St. Louis what that can do. One benefit of not being a hub is that Indy is not as much at the mercy of events outside of its control.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “One benefit of not being a hub is that Indy is not as much at the mercy of events outside of its control.”

    I agree, especially with respect to the fares charged for flying in or out of an airport dominated by a single carrier.

  5. Anonymous says:

    With the O/D numbers at Indy, would certainly doubt DL/NWA is going drop Indy as a focus city.

    Why would NWA continue to ramp up at Indy during the merger and during the downtown in air travel it they and DL had not discussed the future of Indy in their system.

    Remeber this is not like any merger that has happened before.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The DL/NW focus at IND is dominated by Regional Jets. It is tough to make money with that equipment with high fuel costs.

    Maybe it stays…maybe it doesn’t.

    In the current environment would never say never

  7. thundermutt says:

    I can’t wait to see the inside. After flying in and out of the present terminal in its various forms for almost 40 years, this will be a welcome change.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Great review on the airport interior & exterior! By the way, does anybody feels like this airport is very similar to Ohare's international terminal (I believe it's terminal 5)?

  9. Josh says:

    Thanks for the review – it was very thorough. And I agree about entering a city via airport. It’s definitely not the same feeling as coming off a train at Grand Central. This can be said for many of our modern gateways – via highway, air, web, or otherwise. The airport is definitely an improvement though. Thanks for the thorough review.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I would have to see the number of rj NWA is using at Indy…you maybe wrong about the domination of RJ service.

  11. The Urbanophile says:

    Anon 8:14 – I think it looks similar to any white metal and glass airport, of which there are many. That’s one reason I don’t think it particularly stands out versus a lot of the newer international standards.

    But, to steal from a future installment, it is a very solid design. For example, Richard Rogers designed the Madrid terminal I rave about. But he also designed the brand new Heathrow T5. I’ve never been there personally yet, but that terminal is the one that strikes me as having a lot of similarities to IND. And it received many architectural plaudits. IMO, the IND terminal is, at least based on the pictures, as strong as LHR T5 architecturally. The city should feel very good about that. So should HOK. I would be interesting to know the extent to which the Indy design drew from that example or others.

  12. indyjrob says:

    You seemed down on the concourses which was a bit disappointing. I found these areas to be as nice as a concourse could be, largely due to the combination of color(as a result of the stained glass) and light that breathes life into a functional space. Are they architecturally amazing? No. However, they rarely are. At least they had the foresight to utilize art in transforming a mundane space into something special. As for the baggage claim, can’t argue there. It is rather dull and lacking and punch. Great review and I look forward to future installments.

  13. CoryWilson says:

    Great work Aaron! Very impressed. I was supposed to attend this event but I had a friend come into town atthe last minute.

    I too see this resembling the newest terminals at O’Hare.

  14. Indy says:

    Honestly much of the airport was built to serve 18 million passengers. The parking garage, civic plaza and security has to be large enough to handle growth for another 20 years or so. When the airport expands in the future there is room to expand the ticketing area and baggage claim as well as extending the concourses. But the parking garage, civic plaza and perhaps security is where it is going to be for quite a long time.

    I’m not sure if security can be expanded. I don’t think it can be but I could be wrong.

  15. Anonymous says:

    If the new airport gets more direct flights, that will make me happy. Our weather is better than Chicago most of the time and traffic is horrendous. Given a choice, I would prefer the IND airport over Chicago anyday.

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