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Retail-led approach driving passenger experience

Retail-led approach driving passenger experience

With the privatisation of airports operators have been looking for every millimetre of space to make the building a profitable venture.

There was a time when architects used to deal with the challenge of designing a stringent public building like an airport. Today, technological advancement has made it easier to ascertain passenger experience – one of the most important factors while designing an airport – among other factors, beforehand, Harsh Varshneya, Director – STHAPATI Associates told ACE Update.

How can airports be designed to better deal with capacity crunch?
As one of the fastest moving sectors worldwide, aviation is witnessing phenomenal growth rates across sectors leading to airport operators, architects and planners think miles ahead and plan after completing a project. Airports can be better designed by introducing flexibility. Airport architecture is supposed to be one of the most stringent forms of public building. However, with advancements in technology like Artificial Intelligence, it can be ascertained how the terminal building would behave with the increasing number of passengers. Additionally, it can also help determine how flexibility can be introduced in the building to deal with capacity, which is one of the major responsibilities of an architect. This reiterates the fact that going ahead, sound technological usage would be imperative to ensure great passenger experience.

What do you consider as your biggest achievement in the airport space?
We are currently doing airport terminal building in Ladakh, which is one of the most picturesque places in the world. Throughout the design process, we considered the place we were going to build in Leh, given the city’s terrain, complex weather systems and wind directions guiding the aircraft movement, among other factors. Designing for a building in a region like Ladakh is always a challenge with sub-zero temperatures for most parts of the year. Apart from this, the terrain is a challenging aspect. Passengers enter the airport on top of a hillock and descend nearly 20 metres to reach the boarding point to the aircraft. The entire airport is upside down and the challenge was to make the airside visible right from the entrance. Successful amalgamation of the best engineering practices with the cautious yet striking design, was our biggest achievement in the airport building at Leh.

According to you, what are the most significant milestones in design of airports over the past two decades?
The most significant milestones in design of airports over the past two decades, have come from global design teams, which have been working on airports worldwide. One of the most famous milestones is the Foster’s winning design for Mexico airport, which revolutionised the idea of structural systems to be used in long span areas, especially favourable to airports. Norman Foster is one of those architects who has, with time, evolved keeping cutting-edge technology as an important tool in the design practice. Other milestones include Stansted Airport from Foster and Hong Kong Airport terminal by Foster+Partners.

With the privatisation of airports, operators have been looking for every millimetre of space to make the building a profitable venture. Changi Airport is one such example. Operators are focusing on a strong retail-led approach in line with passenger experience creating world-class passenger centres.

How can more panache be added to public spaces like passenger lounge, restrooms, among others while maintaining comfort and functionality?
Besides comfort and functionality inside airport terminals, flamboyance is one of the key aspects that separates one airport from the other. Flamboyance may not necessarily mean richer finishes, but the simplicity with which a better design creates its own niche. Certain airports are being flooded with everything, which are in contrast to structures like Zurich International Airport, which is one of the simplistic airports globally yet tops the flamboyance it carries in passenger lounges, restrooms and maintains the highest order of comfort and functionality. The key to this is simplicity amalgamated with key elements of bright colours, strategic way finding, direct means of access to departure areas and excellent retail approach. A leisure passenger spends little time at the airport as against a business passenger. Hence, identifying the key elements to make passenger experience at the airport is fundamental and has to be dealt with in a responsive manner.

What are your current/upcoming airport projects?
Our current projects spread over the Northern and Eastern part of India. We are looking forward to completing Leh airport, which will be the country’s as well as the world’ highest altitude airports. Certain aviation projects in the African sub-continent are also in the pipeline but as a design-led firm, we are committed to providing airports that make a difference to the way people travel, making them fly safer and happier than before.

With the privatisation of airports, operators have been looking for every millimetre of space to make the building a profitable venture.
Harsh Varshneya, Director – STHAPATI Associates

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