Turkish architectural studio Autoban, walked away from conventional architectural norms and technology, and designed an airport full of cosy cocoons. The resulting space not only challenges the typical airport aesthetics, but also gives everyone stepping into the airport, an unforgettable, thought provoking experience.
The beauty of the new terminal at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport, is in its scaled down space that feels intimate and welcoming, blurring the lines between ‘fantasy and sensible’. Commissioned to design the 65,000 sq m interiors of the terminal in 2012, Turkish design studio Autoban has created an efficient floor plan, speckled with ‘wooden cocoons’ giving the utilitarian space a contemporary and unique aesthetic appeal.
Having designed lounges, cafes and offices at many airports, Autoban is not a newcomer in the field of aviation architecture, though they do point out that it is one of their largest commercial projects to date. Principals, design duo Seyhan Özdemir and Sefer Çaglar elucidate, “The airport was like a huge playground for us to apply our imaginative, idiosyncratic and human-centric approach in hospitality design.”
There are many controlling factors in designing such a vast and highly functional space, but the clients were specific about its aesthetic appeal. They wanted it to reflect Azerbaijani cultural values, traditional design elements and also something that would evoke a feeling of warm hospitality, since an airport terminal does form the first impressions of a country. Explain the team, “The new terminal was designed as a forward-thinking, contemporary building that fits the new face of the modern city of Baku.”
As we approach the building from the outside, there is a natural transition in the design elements and spatial appeal, thanks to the strong belief of the principals that ‘architecture and interior design should be coherent’. The triangular geometry of the panels that form the external concave glass wrap, echoes in almost every part of the interior – the flooring, ceiling, wooden cladding panels, the atrium and escalator spaces, skylight… and in doing so has created a continuous singular fluid motion in the spatial design.
Deriving inspiration from ‘warm hospitality’ – the client’s decree, the designers worked on the ‘micro-architecture’ within the vast cavernous space, scaled it down to a more human level and gave it a nest like feel, using wooden cocoon like structures.
Without doubt the main design element in the airport, the series of custom made wooden cocoons, house everything from a cafe to a cloak room, and even ticket counters to a children’s playroom. Describing them, Seyhan Özdemir tells us, “The cocoons exist at the convergence of architecture and art and create an inviting, intriguing landscape within the huge transportation hub. They promote a sense of welcome and trigger a sense of curiosity and discovery.”
Flexibility and adaptability is the key to the successful utility of the cocoons, which vary not only in function but also in structure and size. Of the 16 cocoons, 11 are solid shapes completely clad in wooden panels while the rest have see through frameworks. Only a few of them had pre-assigned functions, like the cafe, but the rest were allocated activities later on, and the nature of the cocoons allow the airport authorities to be as versatile with the utility plan as required.
Another notable aspect is the creation of circulation patterns within the larger plan thanks to the placement of the cocoons interlaced with trees; this has generated gathering points and also set a course for human traffic. Additionally, this concept has also helped in reducing the massive scale of the airport and made the spaces more personal and relaxed, just as the client had desired and the team had endeavoured to comply.
The tactile nature of the material palette, a mix of natural materials like wood, stone and textiles in warm hues, work in tandem with the cocoons to create the desired personal and warm spatial experience.
Here Sefer Çaglar points out, “Wood is not considered a practical material for an airport, but we wanted to challenge this and break away from the typology of conventional airports that overwhelm passengers with their scale, standards and technology. As a result, with the aid of innovative production technologies, wood became quite a practical material for the airport in our design.”
In the dry, arid Caucasus land, the Red Dot award-winning design of the Heydar Aliyev International Airport is like a welcome gateway, modern with traditional elements – a happy conundrum that is warm, functional and playful all at once.
Text By K Parvathy Menon
Photographs Kerem Sanliman & Sergio Ghetti Courtesy Autoban