The Inner Workings of Airport Architecture, and Benghazi’s Gateway to the World

“It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression, “As pretty as an airport.” Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort. This ugliness arises because airports are full of people who are tired, cross, and have just discovered that their luggage has landed in Murmansk (Murmansk airport is the only exception of this otherwise infallible rule), and architects have on the whole tried to reflect this in their designs.” – Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Second architecture post in a row! I’m on a roll.

So, what comes to mind when you think of an airport? Long lines, long hallways, uncomfortable chairs, overpriced “tax-free” stores. But have you ever fathomed how an  airport functions? Ever questioned what lies beyond all those security-only doors?

Or maybe you’re like me, and you never paid attention to the details beyond getting to your gate and getting the trip over with. I guess there is a certain excitement and anticipation for first-time flyers, though. The idea of traveling to another place, seeing new people and cultures, and so on.

But I’m no fan of airports. I’ve been traveling across continents since primary school, and for me, the charm (if it ever existed) has worn off long ago. Now I associate airports with fatigue, suspicious glances and navigating between multicultural crowds of people with varying degrees of hygiene.

While this outlook is indeed depressing, it’s useful for me as an architect, because I can design my airport with a view to improving the flaws generally associated with these global doorways.

An airport is like a city on it’s own. It works 24/7, and deals not only with transporting people but with ensuring a high level of security, which has been the focus of airport design particularly in the West after 9/11. While it is a transitional space to passengers, the amount of detail that go into airport design is minute. Ever noticed how you never run into departing passengers when arriving, or arriving passengers when departing? All part of the design.

This of course is not to mention the air control tower, the fuel storage and fire station, besides a whole host of other functions that are vital to a successful airport.

First off, I probably should have mentioned that our design project this semester is an airport. Five to seven million passengers annually, 18 gates and all the trimmings. The site is the location of the current Benghazi airport, specifically the new terminal being built.

What, you didn’t think I’d go this long without mentioning Libya, did you? Of course our airport is nothing to brag about. In fact, it is a continuous source of shame for the city. The terminal currently in use was actually an air force base constructed by the British during WWII. Feast your eyes on a relic of history.

SAM_2604Gorgeous, isn’t it? This, ladies and gentlemen, is Benina International Airport. Oh, but wait, the beauty doesn’t end here. Take a look at our air control tower –

SAM_2616Okay, but in all seriousness, it’s not as horrible as this (yes it is, I’m trying to mask the horror). There is a genuine effort by the airport to spruce the place up.

SAM_2652Now there’s plans to open a temporary concourse to take the load of the current terminal, which is working way over capacity. These buildings will be converted once the new terminal is opened. Work had begun before the revolution and the foundations and ground floor have even been constructed. After the revolution, work has yet to continue, as it goes with much of the projects in Benghazi.

On a side note, I went to photograph a derelict park today, which is the site for our new landscape project. One man said to me, “Please help make this place beautiful again.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was only there for a school project. The city desperately wants to be developed, but there’s so much work that it seems a daunting task.

We are trying to rebuild after a 42 year dictatorship that actively tried to run this country to the ground. This has become a mantra for me, but it’s not less true. We’re not giving up on the country just yet.

(And yes, I realize I totally digressed from the main topic, but what’d you expect from a blog called ‘Journal of a Revolution’?)