ArchiExpo e-Magazine - # 31 - In The Air - ArchiExpo e-Magazine

In the Air

There’s a lot underway in terms of innovation for aircraft and airport design. In this issue we identify some of the latest projects and technologies for such design, highlighting the supersonic concept Baby Boom, the no-fuel aircraft Solar Impulse known for having traveled the entire globe and we dig into materials for the interior design of an aircraft with PriestmanGoode.

No-fuel aircraft Solar Impulse, supersonic concept Baby Boom, aircraft interiors by PriestmanGoode and more.

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If an airplane has successfully flown day and night without fuel, then we can power our world on clean energy.
Courtesy of Solar Impulse


“Too big, too light and impossible to control in flight,” aviation specialists said—apart from Dassault—believing the challenge unattainable. Contrary to belief, the Solar Impulse 2 ended its ’round-the-world flight in July 2016 without having consumed a drop of fuel. Powered only by the sun’s energy, and piloted by...

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When we first started in the industry, the airline design approach was like trying to fit boxes into a tube.
Courtesy of PriestmanGoode


When it comes to flying, comfort and individual space shape the travel experience. PriestmanGoode designs cabin interiors for airlines like the customizable Airspace cabin for Airbus launched at Aircraft Interiors Expo in 2016. They also provide award-winning branding for individual airlines including Qatar Airways, Swiss Airlines, TAM Airlines Lufthansa and more.

In April 2016 Paul Priestman was interviewed live on BBC World News about the evolution of aircraft interior design over the last two decades. You can watch the interview here. ArchiExpo e-Magazine spoke with Luke Hawes, designer and co-director at PriestmanGoode, to learn how the company uses cabin design to improve flight experience.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: What tools do you use to design aircraft cabins?

Luke Hawes: We use many types of high-end 3-D CAD and visualization software depending on the project, whether supplying technical data to seat vendors or files for movies. Software allows us to build a skeleton model to visualize materials and colors in photo realistic impressions of the cabin. We can also render through sequences, creating airline-marketing movies.

Check out the latest from a number of 3-D CAD software programs here.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: What materials do you use?

Luke Hawes: Making materials fly is the biggest challenge. There’s a whole floor in our London studio dedicated to material innovation. We also work with major international suppliers, especially trim and finish suppliers like Botany, RohiLantal, Anker, Schneller and Isovolta, to look for new ways of making authentic looking lighter weight materials. For example, granite tray tables with 10 millimeters of material thickness, like those on United Airlines domestic fleet which debuted Fall 2015, only 2-3 millimeters of granite give the visual effect. The rest is a substrate of another much lighter weight material.

United Airlines First Class. Courtesy of PriestmanGoode

United Airlines First Class. Courtesy of PriestmanGoode

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: How do you go about reducing weight and increasing space on board?

Luke Hawes: While a correlation between weight and space exists, it doesn’t guarantee one to the other. We need weight reduction out of everything we do, from seat structure and materials, down to accessories like pillows and blankets, as an economical approach for airlines to reduce fuel costs.

Creating space and the illusion of space is for passengers. We create the feeling of space through layout and intelligent use of lighting. We make elements look like they’re floating by washing light behind them or setting furniture off the floor and lighting the floor. When working with Airbus and Boeing, they have their own lighting suppliers but for customized lighting features Schott is our preferred partner.

We also work to gain half-inches all around, adding to seat width, shoulder width and knee space, particularly in economy class. We use spatial and architectural design tricks in order to meet airline economy class requirements of 32-34 inch seat pitch. We reset literature pockets and move functional items of seat backrests to increase living space. Passengers feel a difference with just millimeters more.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: How does designing for an aircraft manufacturer differ from an airline?

Luke Hawes: With aircraft manufacturers, like Airbus, we’re creating cabin interiors to sell to airlines. We must have layout flexibility so airlines can apply their brand, open comfortable spaces, and have impressive-looking architecture and lighting systems to seduce airlines to want that particular aircraft type.

We then pick up from the other side, helping airlines customize the interior to reflect their brand. Sometimes that’s the country’s culture, local art and architecture, signature crafts like weaves or mosaic tiles. Designing a cabin interior normally starts with a week or two visiting the country or the area, looking at sites of natural heritage, natural landscape and local craft or architecture to form a brand story. We apply these to all components of the aircraft through pattern, color and surface finish. Rich cultural histories of airlines like TAM, Thai or Turkish make the task easy.

Luxe interiors for Qatar Airways A380 Priestmangoode aircraft design interiors textile archiexpo e-magazine interview

Luxe interiors for Qatar Airways A380. Courtesy of Priestmangoode.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: How does each flight class influence design differently?

Luke Hawes: Business class passengers expect more in terms of comfort than economy class. There need to be separate modes for relaxing, sleeping and watching entertainment. Seats must convert to fully flat beds. Business class is the big competitive market where airlines predominantly make their money, so they always need to be innovating the configuration for maximum seat number, while providing lifestyle functions. First class has more space to customize.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: How do you streamline airplane galleys?

Luke Hawes: We dress the galley so it doesn’t look like you’re boarding through the kitchen. We create a welcoming area with customized sidewalls facing the entrance in order to hide what would be visible kitchen appliances. We also use blinds, door systems, lighting and branding so passengers feel like they’re entering through a reception area.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: What lasting innovations have you made in cabin design?

Luke Hawes: When we first started in the industry, the airline design approach was like trying to fit boxes into a tube. They don’t fit particularly well, which leads to wasted space. We treat the cabin as one product to make the architecture fluid and get a better fit, integrating functions as much as possible. Rather than going to manufacturers of each different product and trying to fit them together, we find one supplier who can do the whole cabin or several suppliers who will work together to create a seamless look. We’ve established relationships with several suppliers to accomplish this goal. For seats and monuments, we have a particular affiliation with BE Aerospace but also work with Recaro, Thompson Aero Seating, Stelia Aerospace, Zodiac, Jamco, Aim Altitude and Bucher. Our manufacturers for In-Flight Entertainment systems are Zodiac, Panasonic, Rockwell Collins and Thales, and trim and finish suppliers mentioned earlier.

Also, when we apply the airline’s brand, it’s seamless and goes through the whole aircraft—like a wallpaper pattern, for example. We also make sure there’s power throughout so everything can be illuminated.

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    In early September, a mass of camping tents cluttered Place Stalingrad in Paris, providing shoddy shelter for hundreds of newly arrived refugees with nowhere else to go. In this urgent situation, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo called for construction of two refugee centers. The city commissioned architect Julien Beller to construct the first modular, portable center, which opened November 10, 2016, at an abandoned SNCF depot situated in the 18th district of Paris. It houses 400 asylum seekers in an environment that offers comfort and dignity.

    The refugee center is composed of three sections: a large reception area inside the walls of a giant tarp bubble, constructed by Hans-Walter Müller, 84-year-old pioneer of inflatable structures, a medical center made by connecting 14 shipping containers and a temporary housing center inside the former SNCF depot. “The reutilization of old buildings is a sector we must develop,” Beller told ArchiExpo, expressing deeper implications of the project.

    Mobile Shelter

    Making architectural elements transportable is key to rendering temporarily vacant spaces available for use. Eighteen months after opening, the center will move to a new location, as construction of part of Campus Condorcet will begin at the site.

    Three sources of Beller’s inspiration were “building sites, shanty towns and campgrounds.” Beller’s experience with impermanent architecture includes event structures and Romani settlements.

    Almost all the center’s constructed aspects can function in different locations with little or no modification. Wooden blocks and scaffolds, the balloon reception area, the medical center shipping containers and tent-bungalow living quarters currently inside the depot all transport easily.

    centre d'accueil de réfugiés avant ouverture

    Photo by Jean-Baptiste Gurliat

    Speed Building

    Beller had three months to design, contact suppliers and construct. The time limit meant working with more than 20 manufacturers, dividing work into tasks. Container transformation companies included CAPSA and Progeco. Picheta contributed to ground treatment, Tempere did plumbing, heating and ventilation and Eiffage Energie did electricity. Maitri Cube, Alter Batir and Depuis 1920 did woodwork, while Baches de France and Blas provided fabric coverings for rooms and kitchens. Artists Les Soeurs Chevalme provided barrier art and Liliana Motta did landscaping.

    The biggest challenge in completing the center on time was adhering to the government regulations,” says Beller. “Matching fire regulations delayed the center’s opening and was 10% of the project’s total cost.” Bits of the depot’s façade had to be removed to allow better ventilation and scaffolding staircases had to be installed for exit access.

    More on ventilation options here.

    Restoring Dignity

    Emmaüs, an organization playing a major role in running the center, advised Beller break living quarters into “neighborhoods.” Rather than one space for 400 people, there are eight neighborhoods for 50 people each, offering more privacy. The neighborhoods are compact, leaving open space in the shelter for sports and activities, but also making room for more neighborhoods if needed.

    Shelter signage, done by graphic design firm Surface Totale, uses pictograms to convey messages to speakers of all languages. Throughout, murals and color contribute to a welcoming environment.

    “The subject of the project gave enthusiasm to everyone working on it, so people gave their best work because they cared. Many of the workers on the site had recently immigrated themselves.”

    centre d'accueil de réfugiés avant ouverture

    Photo by Jean-Baptiste Gurliat

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    For many Mexicans, news that Mexico City is finally building itself a new airport is long overdue. Official figures showed that over a third of all domestic flights that route through the city’s current international airport were late in the first half of 2016, largely because the outdated facility is struggling to process over 30 million passengers a year.

    Scheduled to open in 2020 on Mexico City’s eastern edge, the $11.4 billion NAICM (Nuevo Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México) is likely to offer beleaguered travelers more than a little respite. A collaborative design effort by London-based architectural firm Foster + Partners, Mexican architect Fernando Romero and NACO (Netherlands Airport Consultants), it will not only boast quadrupled capacity, but is being widely touted as the world’s most sustainable airport.

    One Terminal to Serve Them All

    The NAICM’s most groundbreaking feature is its lightweight, glass-and-steel gridshell—this will form the walls and roof of the airport’s single, 555,000-square-meter terminal. With a maximum span of 170 meters, this cavernous, earthquake-resistant structure will handle passengers on up to six runways.

    Using fewer materials and less energy than a cluster of buildings, the NAICM’s single terminal design is integral to its sustainability, with architects aiming for a Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) rating.

    “The NAICM is innovative in terms of space and sustainability,” says Nigel Dancey, Foster + Partners’ head of studio and senior executive partner. “The gridshell removes the need for support columns, while the ‘skin’ of the building facilitates natural temperature and daylight control, drainage, and the possibility of harvesting solar energy.”

    Foster + Partners new international airport in mexico

    Courtesy of Foster + Partners

    Answering the Critics

    Critics of contemporary architecture have decried the design of many modern airports, describing them as little more than “interactive postcards” that look nice but overlook the needs of their temporary inhabitants.

    “These days passengers deserve and expect more from airport terminals,” says Brent North, vice president at Stantec Architecture and a pioneer of groundbreaking airport design. “It is no accident that airports with high passenger satisfaction ratings are noted for their superior amenities. These also tend to be the airports with the best-performing non-aeronautical revenues.”

    The NAICM’s short walking distances, limited level changes and complete absence of tunnels and internal trains highlight the importance that designers have placed on keeping terminal guests happy.

    “Passenger satisfaction is critical to the NAICM’s role as a regional hub,” says Foster + Partners’ Dancey. “Its design will not only help to minimize connection times and speed up passenger processing, but optimize the provision of retail offerings and other facilities that enhance passenger comfort.”

    Courtesy of Foster + Partners

    Courtesy of Foster + Partners


    Erin Tallman

    American artist Erin Tallman is a journalist for various online publications and is the Editor in Chief of ArchiExpo e-magazine. She has published three books, including her first novel.

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    Vanessa Liwanag

    Vanessa Liwanag, is an MBA alumni of the prestigious Mod’Art International in Paris and founder of Creative Talents Worldwide.

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    Hilary Edesess

    Hilary Edesess is a freelance journalist based in Marseille, France. She blogs about culture, art and urban design.

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    Erin Gigl

    Erin Gigl is a freelance design and travel writer, editor and artist.

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    Daniel Allen

    Daniel Allen is a writer and a photographer. His work has been featured in numerous publications, including CNN, BBC, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, National Geographic Traveller, Discovery Channel.

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