Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Review: New Indianapolis Airport Terminal – Part 3: Finishes and Furnishings

This is third installment in a series providing a comprehensive overview of the new Indianapolis airport terminal. You can also read part one (exterior) and part two (interior), part four (signage), part five (the artwork), part six (miscellaneous, or rethinking the airport as public space) and part seven (conclusion). This entry covers the various finishes and furnishings used in the new airport.

As with the elements previously covered, the airport made a lot of intelligent design decisions in the selection of finishes and furnishings. These “details” are where people often skimp to keep projects on budget, but as they are extremely visible, they are actually among the most important things to get right.

Let’s start outside on the Departures level. Here is the curb where people are dropped off. Again, keep in mind, the use case. You are driving up to the airport. You’ve seen the buildings from the car. Now you are about to step out and get your first real human interaction with the space. This is a critical juncture where that all important first impression is formed. So let’s see what we form it with.

The bollards are courtesy of post-9/11 security measures. But I feel they are unobtrusive and as bollards go, are solid designs. They sit in a nice diamond base. The polished cap provides interest. And the form is broad and masculine without being too squat. I’ve never seen a truly stunning bollard design anywhere in the world. I think that’s one of the great unconquered design frontiers as they are so ubiquitous these days.

If you click for the larger version of the picture, you’ll see the use of a small screen in the upper left corner to protect the base of the support pylons. I think this is a very nice design. Again, that sort of thing could have been an afterthought, but the designers turned it into as asset.

Here, on the other hand, is a close up of the curbside check-in stand.

This is not good. These desks are very similar to the ones used at the gates and I think are the worst design elements among the finishes. They are smallish, look cheaply constructed, and the curvy surface decorations on them seem very out of place from a design perspective. It looks like they are trying to invoke some seaside motif, but I can’t help but notice we are far from the coast. This does not harmonize well with the rest of the terminal IMO.

We’ll now move into the Departures Hall proper. Keep in mind that this is a pretty grand entrance, as I noted previously. Since I just noted the screens on the outdoor pylons, it’s worth looking at the indoor counterpart to see how the designers created an attractive protective ring around them.

You can see immediately that the floor is also terrazzo, which is commonly used in large institutional spaces like this. Here’s a closer look of the main color selected:

Terrazzo is very expensive, but lasts forever and looks great too. In a future installment, I’ll show you some art work designs created using it.

Flight information is on vertically oriented LCD displays. If not distinctive, they are at par versus the state of the art.

There are also attractive and discreet speakers built into the walls.

Here’s an example of the thought and care that went into the building. Check out these drinking fountains.

The easy way out would simply have been to attach drinking fountains to the wall. By creating a recessed niche, however, a sense of defined space is created about them, that, with the very nice mosaic tile background, both calls our attention and signals that this is a sort of oasis from the madness of the terminal. Again, the aesthetic is clean and modern without being cold or stark.

The new airport also features some of the nicest restrooms I’ve seen in an airport. There were only a limited number of restrooms open during the open house, and they were in heavy use, so I did not have the opportunity to photograph the interior, but this entryway can give you a flavor of it.

We have here the same mosaic tile used for the nearby drinking fountains. The walls and flooring are in tile. I’ll point out two details that again show care and a willingness to go beyond the minimum to make a more interesting space. The first is the “chair rail” formed by the three rows of mosasic tile in the larger wall tiles. The second is the tile pattern on the floor utilizing both large and small squares. One may argue this is a little gratuitous. A stronger design could probably have been done. But in 95% of airports it’s just bland boring tile. This is a definite step up and again, something the designers didn’t have to do.

Beyond check-in, in the Civic Plaza, there is plenty of fun, modern furniture.

I find the tables and chairs a bit more boring.

Oh, you’ll note a change in the flooring here.

Speaking of flooring, here’s a bit of fun with compass directions. I think this is delightful.

This airport even has nice trash cans!

This one is quite the contrast with those used in the gate area, however.

I guess that’s one way to keep people from throwing trash into the newspaper recycling can. Personally, I think the more clean, masculine look of the first example trumps the more playful, but more cheap-looking, second entry.

This photo also gives you a sense of what the gate area looks like. Gate areas are very important since that is where people spend a great deal of time cooling their heels before boarding, and it is the first thing people see when they get off the plane.

You can see they switched, as is not uncommon at airports, to carpet tiles from terrazzo. Disappointingly, we also see very institutional, cheap looking, undistinguished seating. Just being from Herman Miller doesn’t get them a pass here.

As I said before, the gate desks themselves are weak too.

These are boring, cheap looking, and don’t have a strong design integration with the rest of the terminal space. We’ve come from a fantastic Departures Hall and Civic Plaza to this drab space that is as uninspiring as any airport anywhere. This will be a particularly unwelcome hello to people flying in, especially once they proceed directly to the spartan baggage claim.

Along with sprucing up the baggage claim area, replacement of these substandard gate desks and furnishings would be at the top of my upgrade list for the terminal. Fortunately, the replacement cycle on these is among the shorter of the various airport elements, so at some point this will be possible. It was certainly much more important to get the non-changeable parts of the structure right, and I think they did that.

Speaking of baggage claim, they use flat panel displays here too.

There is more of the modern seating as well.

Looks like they are ready for some serious cancellations here.

And lastly, one of my favorite pieces, an outdoor bench on the Arrivals level.

This is both an extremely strong piece itself, and also exhibits a strong design harmony with the rest of the complex.

One the whole, the finishes and furnishings are a mixed bag. The restrooms, drinking fountains, Civic Plaza seating, and some of the terrazzo accents are among the strong points. Unfortunately, the curb side and gate desks, and the gate area seating, add detract from the overall high quality of the terminal.

Topics: Architecture and Design, Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

5 Responses to “Review: New Indianapolis Airport Terminal – Part 3: Finishes and Furnishings”

  1. Randy Simes says:

    The furnishings and other finishes look quite standard for what I’ve seen elsewhere. I was surprised that I didn’t see them using the Big Belly style trash cans that automatically compact trash and alert staff when they need to be emptied.

  2. & DAGGER says:

    The “undistinguished seating” you refer to in the waiting areas are actually classic pieces of furniture.

    They were designed by Charles and Ray Eames and are found in public transportation stations across the world.

    Perhaps their ubiquity has tarnished their reputation.

    I blame the hum-drum design of the waiting areas which forces too much of one’s attention onto the shiny chrome-laced seats.

  3. mheidelberger says:

    I do wonder where the logic came from in making some parts of the facility look very modern and somewhat unique, while making other parts look very dated (or will be dated shortly) and clunky. If you want to know how the gate areas will look several years down the road with the current configuration, visit the City County Building. Carpet tiles, institutionalized row seating, and cheap looking desks; the CCB has them all.

  4. The Urbanophile says:

    I’ll admit that I’ve never been as big a fan of the Eames as some.

    This type of seating is what one associates with institutional waiting areas. Whatever one may think of their design merits, they have accreted a lot of negative associations. One thing this aiport does, for example, with the Civic Plaza, is to give us things that break with previous tradition and the negative baggage (as it were) that comes with airports. A more creative solution was warranted here I feel.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Even just setting those seats at an angle instead of perpendicular to the length of the concourse would be better than nothing. Maybe it would be too much detail, but aligning them using the same angle used elsewhere in the terminal would give the waiting areas a better sense of flow.

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