Airport of the future

What will we find at the airport of the future?

What will the airports of the future be like?

We hope to find movie theaters, art galleries, salons, and someplace to do laundry.

Fentress Architects asked architecture students from around the world what they thought about the airport of the future for its annual Fentress Global Challenge (FGC), This year’s competition challenged students to envision airport mobility in the year 2100.

Students could choose between locating their terminals at an existing airfield, such as at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL), or at a yet undeveloped site.

“Various modes of transport were explored including pods for intra-airport transport.  Mag-lev cars, drones, hyperloops, hydrofoils, and air-rails were among the methods of inter-airport transport proposed,” Fentress reports. “Additionally, several different types of aircraft were studied including anti-gravity, vertical take-off, rockets, and spaceships.”

Entries were evaluated on five criteria, including technology and sustainability. Some submissions envisioned airports that would be able to create their own biofuel from algae and symbiotic bacteria. Others created floating structures that sought to restore coral reefs and ocean ecosystems. 

Here are images from the ten shortlisted entries. A jury of renowned airport architects, directors, planners, and scholars will announce a winner on December 1, 2021, and there will be cash prizes for First, Second, and Third Place.  Two People’s Choice Awards will be given, so you can cast your vote here.

Winning designs for the airport of the future

What will airports look like in the year 2075?

For seven years, Fentress Architects has been running a contest asking students for their ideas about what the airport of the future might look like.

This year, students from more than 50 countries registered about 500 ideas.

Here are the winning proposals. Which are your favorites?

1st Place: Infinity Airport

This design takes inspiration from the torus knot, which appears like two overlapping infinity symbols.

“The general shape of this airport concept combines the complexity of the form and the ideology of infinity by creating the circular and endless concourse system,” explains winner Daoru Wang, of North Carolina State University.

2nd Place: Newark Airport Biophilic Headhouse and Community Nexus

The project uses a rail access and a consolidated terminal to explore the concepts economic analyst John Kasarda described in Aerotropolis, explains Samantha Pires, at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark.

This project “brings economic development to the community that it serves,” said Pires. “It proposes that the Airport of the Future should not be governed by fear and ‘security theater’ that runs modern airports. [Instead] it should be a place for community engagement, job opportunities and a catalyst for neighborhood development and benefit.”

3rd place: London Heathrow 2075

“In this design, a drive-through concept sits below the airport terminal allows aircraft traffic and waiting times to be reduced,” explains winner Christopher Johnson, at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, UK,

“Technological innovations suggest a reduction in physical passports, security and immigration as it moves to an online environment.”

People’s Choice Awards –Y3M

“This design envisions integration of an Elon Musk-like Hyperloop tube system and capsule fuselage technology,” explain winners Chai Yi Yang and Ng Yi Ming of the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia…. “[T]he new model suggests a seamless transition from rail to flight—elementary yet expeditious.”

People’s Choice Award #2:  Six Lane City

“Today, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago extends over 12 square miles, most of which are not fully exploited. We decided to create a new form of city, 650 feet above ground level, which will be built on top of the existing lanes or runways of the airfield,” said winners, Riki Rozenberg, Evelyn Kreslavsky, Mai Whiteson at Tel Aviv University.

Our goal is to create an aerotropolis—an airport which integrates residential solutions, economic opportunities and cultural experiences, which, we think, will bring people closer together.”

First place wins $10,000; 2nd place $3000 and 3rd place $2000. Two People’s Choice Award winners receive $1000 each.

Airports of the future

What will the airport of the (near) future look like? I’ve got a story in the current issue of AFAR that lays out that scenario.  Here are some of the highlights.

Photo -by Harriet Baskas

Your face is your ticket

Get ready for single-token travel. A facial scan and an initial look at your passport is already all you need at some airports.

Smart(er) security lanes

Time-saving, stress-busting security checkpoints will soon be universal. Improved technology speeds up the bin-loading process and allows TSA officers to scan carry-ons quicker and find bags containing prohibited items in a flash

In-airport delivery

Food and merchandise comes to you, wherever you are in the airport. OTG’s tablet-centered ordering and grocery-style self-checkout lanes are expanding, as are app-powered mobile delivery services such as Airport Sherpa and At Your Gate, already on-duty at the Baltimore, San Diego and Newark airports.

 Where’s my bag?

Lost luggage is a bummer. But more bags arrive as promised thanks to airports that employ tools such as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and monitoring apps to track bags from the time they’re accepted at the airport to delivery at the bag claim.

Find your car – and an open restroom stall

High-tech lighting systems guide travelers to open spaces in giant airport parking garages and direct home-bound passengers to lost cars. Airport restrooms are high-tech too, with occupied/unoccupied signals over the stalls and technology that alerts maintenance teams to lavs that need cleaning.

Count on cryptocurrency.

Australia’s Brisbane International led the way by letting travelers pay for purchases with cryptocurrency. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport followed with kiosks that exchange leftover cash for Bitcoin. Count on airports, the first and last city stop for international visitors, to embrace digital currency as its popularity rises.

A nap or a night at the airport

Short-stay cocoon sleeping pods and microhotels from the likes of Minute SuitesSleepbox Hotel, and Yotel offer weary passengers recharging rests inside terminals. For longer stays, look for more full-size airport-adjacent hotels, such as the InterContinental at Minneapolis−St. Paul Airport, opened in July, and the TWA Hotel at JFK International, due in 2019.

Airport cities offer milk, medical facilities and more

No longer ‘just’ transportation nodes, airports are branching out with full-service grocery stores, medical facilities, movie theaters and entertainment centers. The observation deck at Incheon Airport’s new Terminal 2 offers virtual reality experiences, while Singapore’s Changi Airport 10-story Jewel complex (opening 2019) promises the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.

Go to Miami – or Mars


As space travel and space tourism moves closer to reality, some airports plan to double as spaceports, so travelers can set out across an ocean – or out of this world.

What features are you hoping pop up at the airport of the future?