Traveling through airports normally consists of dealing with the incessant buzzing of fluorescent lights and your feet slipping on greasy linoleum floors in the terminal. Most airports aim to provide function over comfort, which makes sense from a money-making standpoint. However, the dreamers of the world have refused to accept architecturally hum-drum terminals and instead want to make airports around the world more beautiful. After all, who says an airport can’t be pretty and practical?
Although there are many innovative and interesting airports, here are the three that make the Flights.com “Most Beautiful” list:
Denver International Airport
Unique features: Denver, Colorado is famous for its snowcapped skyline. Unwilling to let the Rocky Mountains’ picturesque peaks be overshadowed, architect Curtis Fentress conceptualized the Denver International Airport to blend in with the natural landscape. Open since 1995, the airport features unique billowing white peaks. Nestled alongside the Rockies, the effervescent white fabric looks like a home to a futuristic civilization. However, the structures are actually an ode to the Old West. The design is meant to make travelers think of covered wagons as well as traditional Native American teepees.
Interesting Facts: The Denver International Airport (DEN) was constructed with functionality in mind, as well as beauty. The canopy-styled roof is designed to let in natural light during the day, but also created to keep out heat. This forward thinking allows for the airport to drastically cut down on lighting costs, making DEN a mean, green flying machine. Additionally, the roof is made of a fiberglass-coated fabric which weighs less than two pounds per square foot.
Annual number of travelers: 50 million
Lyon–Saint Exupéry Airport, France
Unique features: With its arching terminals and expansive hallways, the Lyon–Saint Exupéry Airport is a force to be reckoned with. Widespread and modern in design, this facility has attracted travelers and architectural enthusiasts alike. Its terminals are circular in shape and full of high-vaulted ceilings and concrete passageways; the airport combines classic elegance with industrial elements for a contemporary look. Although visually stunning, when people think of the airport they most likely envision the attached Gare de Lyon Saint-Exupéry train station instead. Designed by Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava, the structure resembles a massive bird of prey about to take flight. It is particularly beautiful if you arrive at night and get to see the station lit up in all its glory.
Interesting Facts: Not only is the architecture of the airport and train station astonishing, but it’s hyper-functional too. As travelers leave the terminal, they hop on a moving walkway to get to Lyon Saint-Exupéry TGV Train Station and board a train to travel throughout France. This transportation hub is one of the first of its kind in an airport, and trains run up to 186 mph when arriving or leaving the station.
Annual number of travelers: 8.5 million
Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong
Unique features: This airport literally sits on its own island. Commonly referred to as “Chek Lap Kok,” this facility is largely made from recycled materials. Designed by Foster and Partners, the airport shows a considerable regard for natural sources of light. Massive glass windows let in not only emerging sunlight, but expansive views of the ocean. Inside the airport, you’ll feel like you’re inside a futuristic clam. A stunning ceiling made up of white arches give the impression that you’re walking around a space station rather than an airport.
Interesting Facts: Chek Lap Kok was the name of the island where the airport now resides, but the land was leveled as part of a massive reconstruction project during the 1990s. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Hong Kong International notes on their website that they are “less than five flying hours distance from half of the world’s population.” The airport usually ranks annually within the top 10 busiest airports in the world.
Annual number of travelers: 59 million