Saturday, November 8th, 2008

Review: New Indianapolis Airport Terminal Part 7 – Conclusion

This is the last in a series providing a comprehensive review of the new H. Weir Cook Terminal at the Indianapolis International Airport. Before reading it, you might want to check out part one (the exterior), part two (the interior), part three (finishes and furnishings), part four (signage), part five (the artwork) and part six (miscellaneous, or rethinking the airport as public space).

So we come to the end of our tour. I hope it is clear by now that I really like this terminal. On seeing the renderings and construction photos, I was underwhelmed, and frankly ready to be down on the result. But I was very pleasantly surprised, not just by the overall quality of the product, but the attention to detail and the incredible amount of thought that went into every aspect of the design.

I judge and evaluate everything by the same standard: true, world class excellence. It may be that it’s not always worth paying to get that. On the other hand, if you deliberately buy a lower end product, you shouldn’t pretend you bought the high end. And with a price of $1.1 billion, you should be able to afford quite a bit. An airport is a once in a generation investment and a key facility in shaping the opinion that people have of a city. There is no greater marker of the civic ambition of a place than the design of public spaces and buildings, and transportation facilities are the public space par excellence in our modern mobile society.You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so I think any city with aspirations to compete in the world today ought to put some focus on its airport.

Still, it is almost impossible to create a large building like a terminal that is perfect. There are just going to be tradeoffs and the functional requirements sabotage too much. I’ve yet to be in any airport or stadium anywhere that I would give an unqualified A grade too. So any critiques of this facility need to be seen in that light. On the whole, I think the city did one heckuva job here. This is an airport terminal to be proud of.

Some of the highlights of the new airport are:

  • The incredible design integration and design harmony of the entire complex, from the control tower to the interior of the terminal. There is simply nothing I’ve experienced like this anywhere in the world. That’s right, anywhere in the world.
  • LEED certification for the entire complex built in up front. They are going for certification on 227 acres. Given that this will be the airport’s sole terminal, it means that IND is likely the most environmentally friendly and advanced airport anywhere in the world. That’s right, anywhere in the world.
  • Incorporating post-9/11 security measures into the design from the ground up, which should hopefully render this airport a joy to fly from.
  • The jaw-dropping entry into the Departures Hall and Civic Plaza, which creates a grand open space in the terminal.
  • The Civic Plaza itself, and the possibilities thereof.
  • The attention to detail and quality of design in all aspects of the terminal, including the finishes and even the signage.
  • The use of artwork and high degree of design integration of the artwork with the architecture and the use of art as a true design element, not just decoration.
  • The overall commitment to high quality and excellence in design, and the desire to transform the image of the city by creating a front door to be proud of.

There are some things I’ve been down on or think should be changed. Fortunately, the vast bulk of these are correctable.

The first is while the overall architecture is very strong, it uses a rather standard modern airport terminal idiom. The main building interior is jaw dropping, but the interior of Madrid Barajas is actually moving. Again, Madrid is not perfect either. And hiring Richard Rogers, that airport’s designer, may not have guaranteed anything. He designed Heathrow T5 as well, one that is extremely similar to the new IND terminal. I haven’t flown from there yet (thankfully), but from what I’ve seen of the pictures, Indy’s got nothing to be ashamed of when compared to that place. Airports seem to be one of the last architectural frontiers, as there aren’t very may inspiring airports I’ve seen, even brand new ones. So I’d rate Indy’s terminal building as very, very good, but not spectacular.

The other items are more discrete:

  • The baggage claim areas are a bit dull and need to be spruced up.
  • The gate areas are standard issue institutional, and need upgrades. In particular, the gate desks are poor.
  • Similarly, the curb side check-in desks should be upgraded.
  • The copy-cat “Interactive Passage” art work should be removed and replaced with something more original.

I’d also like to see the IND sculpture finished, which I’m confident it will be, and to see a major exit gateway structure built. I also hope that the Civic Plaza will be utilized as a true public space, not just a shopping mall and food court.

That’s not a lot that went wrong compared to a whole lot that went right.

Obviously the true test of the airport is to come. Terminal cutovers are notorious for disasters, as anyone who experienced DEN or LHR T5 can attest. The airport authority needs to get this right. Also, the true test of any structure is how well it functions. There’s a whole lot of functionality I didn’t scan for, such as quantity of power outlets and quality of wireless coverage, but if something goes wrong here, it will really mar things. As I noted before, Madrid’s airport looks awesome, but it has functional challenges. That’s why they don’t get an A either. So any statements about the new terminal have to be made with the caveat that the jury is still out on these points.

With that proviso in mind, I think there’s a claim that can be made for the airport, and I’m going to make it: This is the best airport in the United States. I haven’t been in every airport, but I’ve been in a lot. And there’s not one US airport I’d rate higher based on what I’ve seen. And for many places I haven’t seen like the new Detroit terminal, I’ve seen a lot of pictures, and I don’t think they measure up.

The best airport in America. The most environmentally friendly airport in the world. This airport is going to be a game changer for the city. It is going to dramatically reshape the image the city projects to visitors and locals alike. It’s certainly a risky proposition. With airlines struggling and the economy in the tank, paying for it isn’t going to be slam dunk. But you’ve got to place some long term bets, and I think the city placed a good one here.

This new terminal is the result of a master plan going back to the 1970’s. The runways were replaced to make room for it, land acquired for a future third parallel runway, I-70 rebuilt and relocated and depressed, and how this new terminal building opened. This was long term planning and long term follow-through. The only clouds on the horizon are the underpowered design of the I-465/I-70 interchange that INDOT is planning, and the question marks around future rail service to the airport.

I think this terminal is the most conceptually and architecturally successful major civic project the city has undertaken in many years. I think is shows that the airport authority people have that ineffable quality known as “getittude”. They just get it. The challenge now is to bring everything else up to that same standard. It’s doesn’t mean you can never compromise, but you have to know that you’re compromising and understand what you’re giving up on. I posted recently that the Midwest has a terrible track record of learning from good examples. Let’s hope this is a different case, and people use the success of this project and facility as inspiration to inform the projects of the future.

Further information about the airport is available in the Indianapolis Star’s special section.

Topics: Architecture and Design, Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

27 Responses to “Review: New Indianapolis Airport Terminal Part 7 – Conclusion”

  1. Anonymous says:

    It needs areas for children. If you are traveling with a toddler of single digit aged child, there’s not much for them to do while you wait to board your flight.

  2. The Urbanophile says:

    anon, thank for the comments. I saw that in the paper this week. That could be one of the functional things I mentioned. But that is the sort of thing that should be easily fixable if it proves to be a problem.

  3. brianwyrick says:

    I haven’t had a chance to read all of your posts, but I will come back and comment Thursday. I just flew out of the old airport, and will be returning on Wednesday to a new one. Fingers crossed!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great work on all these posts related to the airport. I had a chance to go to the open house and agree with most of your comments. I was particularly struck by the amount of natural light and exterior views available throughout the terminal. If only we could have gotten glass-sided jetways to match!

    I’ll be travelling into Indy for Thanksgiving and Christmas. That should be a good test of the functionality. Based on the overall larger size of the terminal and the greater distance from the parking garage, I’ll probably be doing a bit more walking than before, but I think the overall experience will make up for it.

    Regarding the environmental aspects of the airport, the biggest deficiency I see is that many people will have their drive extended by several miles compared to the old terminal location. This adds up to a lot of additional vehicle emissions.

  5. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    anon 8:20, I hope that the extra miles driven will be at least partially offset by reduced aircraft taxi times.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Congrats on Randall Tobias citing your review at greater length than would be expected during the dedication ceremony.

  7. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 4:20, thanks for the note letting me know since I was not there.

  8. SpeedBlue47 says:

    Urban – Quite the review and I was actually taken aback by the fact that Tobias mention you and your blog by name and spent the better part of a minute to quote the review, and he actually mentioned that he assumed that the crowd has already read it! Spectacular work, maybe this blog has made it. Congrats, I guess I’ll be seeing your column in some major publication soon ;-).

  9. thundermutt says:

    Wow. The Urbanophile sure has become influential. Nice work.

  10. Bill says:

    The recognition of your work by Randall Tobias at the ribbon cutting was well deserved. Congratulations.

  11. Joel says:

    I’m one of the project managers on the New IND project and had some feedback.

    Give the “Interactive Passage” more credit. The lights actually track the pedestrians using the walkway area. If you go in there during a low-traffic time period it is quite entertaining how the lights and sounds are responsive to pedestrian traffic. Try it a few times by yourself and you gain an appreciation for how it works with many people walking through at the same time.

  12. The Urbanophile says:

    Joel, thanks for the contribution. I was not aware that it followed individual people as it was very crowded when I walked through. I’d still prefer to have something that is a more unique design, however, though reasonable people can disagree on this particular artwork.

  13. The Urbanophile says:

    Bill, thunder, anon, thanks for the kind words.

    Speed, apart from my blog posts, which are totally independent, the Urbanophile is always for hire :)

  14. Josh says:

    Thanks for the thorough reviews. I particularly agree with the point that cities need to get mobility right – and major projects.

    My opinion so far:
    1. Library – good, not brilliant
    2. Airport – Great
    3. Transit, bus or rail – OUCH
    4. Convention…Okay, but who cares
    5. Lucas Oil – Two YAWNs and a BURP
    6. Cultural Trail – Good, Unique
    7. IMA expansion… SAD
    8. IMA new direction – great
    9. IUPUI – expecting good things from the new master plan
    10. Canal – new building east of Bugg’s Temple is total crap. We need more out of this major asset and it needs to find a way to integrate better with Indiana Avenue.
    11. General livability downtown – F

    This is a big issue. Most of the new residential is hideous and the failure of Market Square is really disheartening. For Mass Ave, Fountain Sq, Indiana Ave, S. Meridian, the area around Monument Circle and University Park Mall – we need to have more people living here to make this sing.

  15. The Urbanophile says:

    Josh, I generally agree with that rundown. Nice summary.

  16. Indy says:

    Having gone through the arrivals process of the new terminal I am not as thrilled about the project as I was before it opened. The civic plaza while appearing good on paper and in 3D models is actually a bad concept. It creates a passenger bottleneck. I experienced this first hand. The flow of traffic out of the concourses gets clogged up. This is only going to get worse during the holidays and as the years go by. The plaza is just too small to support that kind of traffic flow and double as a food court, observation deck and meet & greet point.

    The glare from the setting sun as you are going to baggage claim after your arrival is really bad as well. So bad that you can barely see the signs with the sun in your eyes.

    Then there is the poorly designed exit from the garage through the pay for parking plaza. There are going to be problems with merging traffic at two points that I noticed. One is right after you pull out from the pay for parking plaza and all those cars have to merge immediately to the far right. The other is where those who parked have to merge right into a lane that is being shared with people merging left that want to circle around the terminal area.

  17. Anonymous says:

    The airport is in great shape with the new terminal. The next major project is to construct a people mover that will run from the terminal to Union Station downtown. The space above the Conrail railroad going west from Union Station will do as far as I-465. Then it can go underground into the airport. The distance is about seven miles. Once it is built we can close off the airport to automobile traffic. Union Station will become part of the airport. Every person arriving by air to Indianapolis will walk out the front doors of Union Station. Every person departing by air will go downtown to get to the airport.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Not sure will get the opportunity to fly in/out IND but it looks like you have a fine new airport terminal.

    As far as best…since not likely will use IND can only suggest that its competition for best includes:
    DTW, MCO, TPA, FLL, BWI(WN terminal), MDW, CVG, SFO, PHX, STL(WN Terminal)

  19. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately the only way the Market Square area ever gets developed is if they move the jail out of downtown.

  20. Anonymous says:

    While the new Indianapolis International Airport is a great design from a passenger’s standpoint, it is a nightmare for many employees, largely by design. In order to reach one’s car in the (very) remote employee lot, one has to ride a seedy old used bus on a long and circuitous route. Average time to do this is around 20 minutes, and is, of course unpaid time. Taxis and shuttles, which stage on an adjacent lot, also have to travel the same circuitous route, which was completely unecessary. Some employees have been banned from eating in the Civic Plaza, or must remove uniform clothing identifying them that identifies them as employees, as though the Airport Authority is ashamed of them. The arrivals/departures curbs are littered with shuttle bus traffic which should be at the Ground Transportation Center instead. Once again, the same poor management practices that plagued the Old Terminal are marring this wonderful new building. The City of Indianapolis and the airport employees deserve better.

  21. Jon says:

    I just traveled through the new Indy Airport. Here are some of my comments:

    * Navigating in and around the new terminal is very convenient.
    * Long-term parking is very close to the terminal and shuttles were running often even in the early morning. When we arrived back in Indy, it was very late. But there were still several people making sure we knew which shuttle to take.
    * The inside of the terminal is very open and comfortable. I especially liked the main atrium / food court / common area. This is a great place for family and friends to meet weary travelers. Very much improved over the old terminal!
    * TSA had new uniforms. They no longer wearing boring white shirts but have new royal blue shirts. This is not just an Indy thing, though.
    * Taxi time is much, much better. Ours was ~7 minutes and we had to wait on someone in the terminal to prepare the jetway. Our connections through Houston were over 7 minutes.
    * My mindset after walking through the terminal was that I was no longer in Indy. I also felt like everything was new and fresh. For some reason, I felt the plane would be too. :)

  22. Indy says:

    "Once again, the same poor management practices that plagued the Old Terminal are marring this wonderful new building. The City of Indianapolis and the airport employees deserve better."

    Is this perhaps why we open a new terminal and get no new service to launch it? Why instead of adding service we've now lost 3 cities completely starting 2009? Those being PIT, AUS and SAT. Is this perhaps why we cannot land a new carrier and still can't get any kind of international service going?

    There needs to be serious negotiations with DL to maintain current service levels and even expand. Something like if you maintain 60 flights to 25 destinations including one transatlantic flight we will provide free use of international arrivals and club space. Its going to take some giving to kick things off. We are going nowhere if the airport authority plans to nickel & dime the airlines to death. They will just move on. We need them more than they need us and our relatively small market.

  23. Anonymous says:

    “Is this perhaps why we open a new terminal and get no new service to launch it? Why instead of adding service we’ve now lost 3 cities completely starting 2009? Those being PIT, AUS and SAT. Is this perhaps why we cannot land a new carrier and still can’t get any kind of international service going?”

    Yes! The Indianpolis International Airport is mismanaged on many levels. Much of the blame can be placed on administrators hired during the BAA Indianapolis LLC era, and retained by the current board. Their short sightedness caused many problems with the old airport, which, in time, will resurface at the new one. The ‘bottom-line focused’ style of management, so favored by BAA, and allowed by former Mayor Bart Peterson and his board, simply runs both infrastructure and employees into the ground. Unfortunately, it may still be a long while before the (relatively) new Ballard administration figures this out. Until the airport administration starts to foster relationships with employees and the airlines, and perform preventative maintenance on both equipment and infrastructure, we will continue to suffer in this regard. While the ‘bottom-line’ IS important, it is not all there is. Focusing on the details IS important, and if done properly, the bottom-line takes care of itself.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I recently flew out of the new airport yesterday (the 24th) and I’d thought I’d document my experience from a “joe-anybody” traveler:

    Right off the bat I was impressed with the entrance into the terminal and remained impressed until I got into the economy lot exit. There are a lot of dangerous weaves/slightly-confusing signage in the area and I project that this will cause a slight influx of traffic headaches in the future. Pulling into the economy lot, there were a lot of nice asthetics, including the bus shelters, but the lot is relatively confusing and intimidating due to its large size. However, it helps A LOT to have those extra spaces and travelers will be not hurting for parking space, just as a tip – remember where you parked!

    As I headed towards the shelter, expecting a fully operational high-capacity bus, I was greated with a small, cramped “Bloomington Shuttle” bus on lease to the airport. The bus was driven by an employee in street clothes who was not doing her job efficiently. The said driver took roughly 20 minutes to get from the economy lot due to addressing the questions of several drivers and from inappropriately waiting for a family unloading their car in a very slow fashion (the driver gave up on them after a good 5-7 minutes). People in the shuttle (including myself) were getting quite anxious and irritaed as some of us were cutting it close to our boarding/departure times (throwing in check-in and security). This alone was crucial to my experience of the new airport and somewhat bruised it as a whole due to the loss of some valuable time. I hope the airport enlists a bus system of their own akin to the high capacity busses I saw serving the smaller long-term parking lot. Having a makeshift and cramped shuttle system was unprofessional, stress-inducing and overall dampered my experience.

    However, when I entered the doors of airport I felt as if I was in a place other than IND. High glass ceelings, open airy spaces made me feel as if I was at a mall rather than an airport. I was soon brought back to reality though when I reached the United ticket counters. After a fiasco of not having my e-ticket able to process my check-in on the kiosk, and trying to flag down the ONE csr working to get my check-in process and my boarding pass printed, my stress level was heading towards the red, and just in time for security.

    The civic plaza is nice and open. A lot of nice food options exist here though it felt very crowded from the influx of traffic from arriving traffic, patrons and departing traffic. Security was relatively painless on the whole and was a little less stressful than I anticipated due to the open space of the area. The controversial “see-through” machines were not in use at the time of my departure. The TSAs were very friendly and actually directed me towards the entrance of the A concounces (even though my flight was departing from B) due to the longer wait at the B concourse security area.

    After I cleared security, I got to make use of the connecting walkway from A to B. I noticed a lack of signs in the area between security and this corridor directing passengers clearing security on the far south side of the security queues, though this is a minor problem and can easily be fixed. However, the walkway between the concourses is quite nice and gives you a grand view of the conjested civic plaza. I noticed a strategic placement of starbucks-esque chairs facing the view of tarmac in the civic plaza. In the walkway, I also had a nice view of the tarmac between the two concourses, with a hint of the Indianapolis skyline in the background.

    The new airport concourses are a world away from the old ones at IND. Walking through the B concourse I felt as if I was walking through a major hub such as DEN or ORD. The selection of restaurants were diverse and local, which was a nice touch on the whole. However, I’d at least hope that the Shapiro’s in the airport is NOTHING like the real Shapiro’s locations in Indy and Carmel as the food/service I received there was on the whole, sub par. The restrooms were your typical standard fare facilities but there was some astethic thought. There were some minor bugs such as malfunctioning paper towel dispensers and a lack of soap within the soap dispensers but on the whole, I deemed them as effective. Boarding was efficient and not problematic at all and my stress level had dropped to a reasonable level by then.

    As I departed, the view from my window seat of the new IND was fantastic and really spoke to me as a “world class” and distinguished facility. And, on the contrary to some of the negative aspects I pointed out, it is a world class facility. However there are some minor bugs that need to be worked out, the major one being the transportation from the economy lot to the terminal. Hopefully by now, the authority has enlisted some higher-capacity busses to serve the lot as tomorrow (the 26th) is going to be a very busy day for traveling and a busy day for the lots as well. Having a small/cramped Bloomington Shuttle bus serve this route just wont cut it for presenting an image of “world class” and will do anything but promote a stress free experience. As another user mentioned, I could see the Civic Plaza turning into a chokehold due to the convergence of arrvials/departures/patrons traffic that could cause some headaches in the future. While the idea looks good on paper and is a visually appealing place with some unique features, it hasn’t been outstanding in terms of public conjestion.

    On the whole, the airport is a valuable and a great asset to the city. Upon landing in the cramped and old D concourse at IAD, I sorely missed the vibrant facility and as I boarded the mobile lounge to the main terminal, I missed the easy/quick access to ground transportation. The airport is one of the best in the country and is something that will distinguish Indianapolis out of the other growing cities in the midwest.

  25. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 8:42, thanks for posting such a thorough report of your experiences.

  26. David says:

    Anon 8:29

    Regardless of mgmt actions/inactions the lossof service/cities you cite is driven by the carrier economics. There is not enough traffic between IND and PIT, SAT and AUS to profitably fly those routes. The loss of PIT is also impacted by the continued downsizing of USAIR operations there.

    As for new carrier additions…hmmm…who would that be? JetBlue is the only ‘new/sizable’ carrier that does not have ops at IND. In regards to regulalrly scheduled int’l flights…with ORD 160 miles away and CVG 100 miles away that is not likely to happen anytime soon.

    I read that DL/NWA are reviewing additional domestic capacity reductions in 2009; CVG is likely to be further downsized. Think it also likely that IND focus receives less focus.

  27. Harris says:

    As a whole, the new airport is an efficient and appealing building. But there are still a few areas that need drastic improvements. Specifically, the parking shuttles. While it is not problematic to get from the lots to the terminal, the return trip to the lots in substandard. The facility has been open since November and the buses still do not have proper identification. Even though the buses ( at least the long term ones) have LED message boards on the sides and the front, they are still using paper labels to distinguish between the long term and the economy shuttles. Although I can’t fault them for reusing the buses from the old airport, I cannot understand why the buses cannot be properly identified with the LED message boards that appear to already be equipped on the buses. These message boards would be a big help at night to help passengers identify the bus that they need to take. To add to the problem, the driver’s of the buses seem more inclined to identify the bus by the daily rate ( long term versus economy) rather than just saying “long term” or “economy”.

    Every trip back to my car has been filled with confused people wondering if they are in the right bus. Granted, a lot of them are casual users who also are trying to remember where they parked.

    The pick up points for the buses on the lower lever could stand to have better identification and dedicated loading zones. The old airport had designated shelters in the median of the divided pick up drive which worked a lot better than what we have now.

    The way-finding signage in the concourses if adequate, but the same could not be said for the civic plaza. The signs for the check points need to be more prominent and perhaps located higher off of the ground. As they are now, they are hard to see because of all the trees and light standards in the plaza and their size and mounting height do not help differentiate them from the marquess for all the shops and restaurants int he plaza.

    Overall I give the airport a B-. Again, they shuttle buses need to get sorted out as soon as possible.

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