Lounge wizards

High-end airport lounges offer international travellers a haven where they can escape from the stresses of air travel. Tom Banks looks at some of the latest developments and considers the future of lounge design

By their international nature, high-end airline-specific airport lounges can often represent something of an incongruity.

As an example, last week a JPA-designed Gulf Air lounge opened at Heathrow’s Terminal 4. Although located on UK soil, the interiors have taken on a Bahrain-influenced contemporary Arabic look, hinting at the destination, cultural Arabic values and Gulf Air’s brand values simultaneously.

’It’s definitely a balancing act,’ says JPA design director Alex Duncan. ’We’ve tried to refer to Bahraini devices in an abstract way rather than literally or through pastiche.’

Bahraini domestic architectural values have been applied so that a dark atmospheric corridor gives way to the lounge – a bright open space – which in this case features a bar, buffet and dining area.

Generous ceiling heights and a contemporary room structure make interventions into the room possible. These include ’intimate metal shimmering screens’, which subdivide seating bays, says Duncan.

The entrance has been inspired by a Bahraini fort and Dilum seals – circular stamps understood to be used for trade thousands of years ago – have been stamped into the wall.

You might have thought that although the lounge has been designed for Gulf Air flying destinations to Gulf states, some allowance might be given to its UK location.

’Not necessarily,’ says Duncan. ’The overriding objective is to create the image of a contemporary modern airline – rather than a local one – with a desire to look international.’

However, it is cultural sensitivities and necessities that have the most significant influence on JPA’s airport lounges in the airline’s region of origin.

When the consultancy was working for Oman Air at the Muscat International Airport in Oman, a bar was not required, given many Arabs’ temperance. Instead, an open cooking area provides a similar intimacy.

Essentially though, these spaces are governed by function, Duncan feels. ’A lounge has to provide a restful, memorable and pleasant experience in the midst of busy airports – an oasis to escape the stresses of travelling,’ he says.

This could mean areas as diverse as business centres, showers and prayer rooms. Duncan believes the future of lounges lies in further value added through variety and dedicated zones. He says this could take in rest areas including private bedrooms and sleeping pods, as well as zonal study, lounge, gallery, dining and relaxing.

Beyond this, he sees further integration of video-conferencing and office communication systems, entertainment options such as ’mini-theatres’ and spas.

Airport expansion and regeneration show no sign of slowing down and new airports continue to be given planning permission. HOK London has just announced its appointment as master architect for Gatwick Airport’s £1bn regeneration, and elsewhere Foster & Partners is designing a new terminal at Kuwait International Airport, and Woods Bagot has announced that it is to design the Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku, Azerbaijan, having already revealed it is to work on Perth Airport’s international terminal.

Virgin Atlantic Airlines, which works with an in-house team and contracted architects or interior design groups, is currently working on the concept design of a new lounge in Boston.

Origin rather than destination is considered in the design of Virgin Atlantic lounges, according to the company’s product and services director Dee Cooper.

Design directly reflects locale in each city airport Virgin Atlantic flies from. In the case of Boston Logan International Airport local reclaimed chestnut has been sourced, ’which is representative of the deep brown shingled houses around the Boston Harbour’, says Cooper.

This has the effect of creating a ’family’ of lounges ’where New York meets Los Angeles, meets Boston, meets London’, she says.
In Narita, Japan, local marble has been used, as well as a lenticular wall displaying a graphic of bamboo grasses, which gives way to an image of a manga cartoon from certain angles.

’We’re trying to invoke what’s cool, contemporary and relevant locally, but also meet people’s needs,’ says Cooper.

This means meeting the conflicting demands of luxury and practicality and reconciling them through designs that customers will find intuitive. ’Space is the biggest luxury in lounges and it has to be used properly in a way people can understand,’ says Cooper.

Designing a lounge is about ’creating an environment where people feel great’ for Cooper, who can rattle off an exhaustive list of design classics, and manufacturers whose pieces populate Virgin Atlantic’s lounges.

Eames chairs and George day beds by Frighetto can be found at Virgin Atlantic’s Heathrow lounge, and other lounges feature Corona chairs and Saarinen marble tables.

Airside lounges are not exclusively the preserve of airlines though. The Design Solution has worked on a high-end airside members lounge for duty free retailer King Power at the Suvarnabahumi airport in Thailand.

King Power has a downtown duty-free shop selling high-end watches, perfume and cosmetics away from the airport. Members – of which there are more than 500 000 – are able to order goods 60 days before flying and then pick them up at a King Power duty free shop based in the airport.

The Design Solution director Robbie Gill led the design of an airside lounge for these members. Offering food, drinks, Internet access and showers, Gill says, ’It looks and behaves in the same way’ as an airline lounge. ’We used a mixture of old artefacts and contemporary decoration,’ says Gill, who applied design highlights including Thai silk screens enveloped between glass.

For Gill the future of airline lounges will involve integrating retail, a move which if founded would impact directly on design briefs. This will be spurred by customer demand for added value and airlines’ efforts to differentiate their offer, he feels. ’Airports are reluctant to allow airlines to sell goods on the ground, but I can see that changing,’ says Gill.

Recent airport design projects

  • HOK London was last week appointed as master architect on the £1bn investment programme at Gatwick Airport
  • Woods Bagot together with Buro Happold unveiled plans for the Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku, Azerbaijan, which will see a rebuild and extension of principal facilities

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