The New Town Square

Tim Hudson

There is a paradigm shift occurring in the world as we know it. In the travel industry, the pandemic is driving major changes that are providing opportunities to learn from the way passenger behaviors have adapted and their expectations have been redefined. At Gensler, we see airports becoming the new town square.

Tim Hudson, Aviation Practice leader and principal at Gensler, brings more than 25 years of experience in the planning, design and delivery of regional, hub and international airport terminal projects. He has led project teams at some of the world’s busiest airports, including Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Dallas Fort Worth International and Los Angeles International, supporting both airport and airline clients. He excels at understanding how to successfully deliver design solutions in active airport environments.

Terminals as Town Squares

Typically found in the heart of a downtown core, a town square includes a mix of program elements and amenities that weave together the threads of a community and its people. By integrating these types of functions into a terminal—perhaps a curated mix of local retail and food/beverage concessions, performances from celebrated community organizations, or outdoor fire pits—we can create a tailored experience for travelers and locals. This experience, in turn, gives the airport a repurposed role as a place where people want to gather, not necessarily tied to arriving or departing via airplanes.  

This design point of view was a primary driver behind Gensler’s Skyport Mobility Hub concept, which focuses on a town square design approach to draw the local community to an aerial transportation hub. It is a place to gather, and we disguise the transportation aspects of the facility by wrapping it with retail, dining and healthcare functions.

For Eagle County Regional Airport, we designed a central hearth to provide an opportunity for visitors to interact while sitting around a fire conversing, eating or relaxing. We created a setting at the airport meant for a much wider group of users than passengers.

The opportunity to impact current terminal paradigms and thinking is upon us. We can make airports community-centric and welcoming to all.

Commuting Gateway

The concept of working from home has been accelerated to a new reality, driven by using technology for connectivity. More employees than ever can effectively perform their job responsibilities from home through web-based calls, presentations and seamless information sharing. As a result, more people and families have moved to the suburbs or smaller cities for a better quality of life, while still accomplishing their job responsibilities remotely.

This move outward has created an opportunity for regional and municipal airports to transform into commuting gateways, providing connectivity to larger cities through localized, community-influenced terminals. A more scaled, right-sized personalized travel experience will make travel a simpler process, from curb to gate. Commute times to and from home will be minimized, passenger processes will be streamlined, and the overall time spent traveling will be reduced, thus supporting expectations for a newly discovered work-life balance.

Looking Forward

We have been presented the valuable chance to analyze how current airports and terminal facilities are being utilized, and how they are adapting as travel trends change. With change comes the opportunity to re-shape the overall travel experience, including modifications of existing facilities, or establishing new paradigms for new terminals.

As we look ahead, terminal designs need to be flexible to accommodate evolving travel needs, as well as being transitional to adjust to permanent change. That includes how regional airports that support the suburbs and municipalities become commuter facilities, providing connectivity to larger markets with the ease and features of a community airport. As we look toward returning to “normal,” designers need to take advantage of what we are learning from change in travel behaviors and work methodologies to redefine a tailored travel experience.

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