Light and Flight

Light and Flight


From illuminating car parks and retail outlets to keeping passengers safe and happy, airport lighting is both important and complex. So how do today’s airports stay up to speed?

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, RCA

Airports are among the most complex buildings in the world. Their design must enable efficient flow of baggage and passengers, satisfy safety requirements, and support thousands of employees. Passengers must be guided through buildings intelligently – but sometimes not too rapidly. With retail comprising 27% of an airport’s non-aeronautical income, often compensating for other shortfalls, it’s also vital that visitors have time to shop.


Master plan and terminal: United Airports of Georgia LLC

Air Traffic Control Tower, offices and meteorological building: Sakaeronavigatsia Ltd.

Architect: UNStudio

Lighting designer: Primo exposures

Photo © Nakanimamasakhlisi

What’s more, as competition between airports and cities grows, airports need to be tourist-friendly as well as functional. Designers must give terminals character that adds to the passenger experience. To fulfill all these goals, lighting designers collaborate with UNStudio architects in three places: outside of the airport, within the terminals, and around the runways.
Outside of the airport, lighting must ensure that passengers arrive safely and comfortably. Roads, tunnels and parking lots must be adequately lit and easy to navigate – particularly as people may have never been to the airport before. Many airports operate for 24 hours a day, so energy efficiency is paramount. LED lighting in combination with presence detection is ideal in these circumstances.
Lighting the facades is equally important, both for assisting with wayfinding and for creating a good first impression. As passengers enter the airport and pass through the check-in and security areas, light must guide them and present a business-like atmosphere. Staff must have both excellent working conditions and an environment that makes them appear efficient and authoritative. A range of lighting needs to be considered here.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Terminal A, Washington, D.C., USA

Once they reach the departure area, passengers are more relax and may pass time by shopping or eating. Having large, well-lit features here can assist with orientation and make the airport more memorable. At the Ronald Reagan International Airport in Washington, a large white umbrella-like sculpture forms a centerpiece to the hall, drawing passengers to the catering facilities below. It is illuminated with white LED light that varies in color temperature through the day, echoing the changing quality of the external light by ICRAVE.


Client: OTG Management

Interior and lighting designer: ICRAVE

Architect of record: Architectural Alliance

Photo © Giulio Calisse

Narita International Airport, Narita, Japan

With passengers spending a lot of time in waiting areas, bringing imaginative lighting to relatively mundane areas can pay dividends. At Narita International Airport in Japan, Klein Dytham Architects and designer Yasuyuki Tamenaga (black*bath) used color-changing luminous textiles to turn a wall of toilets into an entertaining light show.


Client: TOTO and Narita International Airport

Designer: Yasuyuki Tamenaga (black*bath)

Architect: Klein Dytham Architecture

Photo © Daici Ano

Outside around the runways, lighting has several technical requirement – areas like airport hangars must be well lit without causing glare. However, there is room for innovation, as shown at Kutaisi International Airport in Georgia. Here, lighting designer Marco de Boer of Primo Exposures enhanced the control tower with lines of white light, plus a colored glow coming through a perforated double skin.
To make lighting management easier for airport operators, a fascinating new approach is being pioneered at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands. The airport is buying the light as a service from Philips, which controls all the luminaires and their light levels. Airport employees now have one less thing to worry about and light quality is reaching dizzying new heights. A soaring success for intelligent lighting.
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