People walking in a large building.

Airport Cities

For decades airports served a necessary, if sometimes unassuming role in civic architecture. Mostly utilitarian in form and function, and located miles outside their city centers, terminals typically offered passengers little reason to linger in them beyond departure or arrival. As the world globalizes and cities form business and social bonds with far-off places, the relationship between urban centers and their airports is changing.

Today’s forward-looking terminals are gateways to the globe’s physical internet and markers of civic achievement. What these airports provide in passenger experience and efficient links to the urban core is being recognized as increasingly significant for their cities’ future economic vitality. Two Gensler-designed airport projects, in Denver and Seoul, illustrate these trends.


A large dam with a river running through it.

A Global Gateway

The new Terminal 2 at Incheon International Airport near Seoul, South Korea, showcases Gensler’s ability to design for the highest standards of passenger comfort on a massive scale. With 72 gates, the 6.7-million-square-foot terminal will boost the airport’s role as a key asset to the country’s fast-growing economy.

Among the client’s goals is to strengthen the airport’s role as a gateway to Asia — providing an alternative to accommodating airports in Hong Kong and Singapore. One of the new terminal’s claims to fame — besides welcoming visitors to the 2018 Winter Olympics — is that it will shuttle business travelers from train to gate in 13 minutes.


A group of people walking in a mall.

Destination Airport

When it comes to having a customer-first approach, Incheon is a world leader. In fact, the airport has been voted the best in the world by the Airports Council International for an unprecedented seven years in a row. Airport administrators are determined to continue that record.

Within the vast, gently lit spaces, restaurants and stores will cater to the expectations of the most sophisticated consumers. As with many Asian airports, the retail sales are in the billions of dollars annually; and the new building will offer an array of facilities and attractions, including a conference center and hotel, that, like a city, make it a compelling destination.

A large indoor water fountain.

Symbol of Sophistication

What Gensler, Heerim and their partners in the HMGY Consortium are designing combines extraordinary efficiency with artistic flair rooted in Korean culture. In overall form, the terminal resembles a phoenix, the bird known in mythology for rising from the ashes. The symbolism speaks to the Republic of Korea’s growing importance as an economic powerhouse.

Here, visitors also will encounter vast amounts of greenery — acres of plantings that will lighten air-conditioning and ventilation loads. It’s all part of a comprehensive plan for the terminal to be as energy efficient as any in the world by making its own energy and cleaning its own air.

A train on a snowy track.

Realizing a Master Urban Plan

Denver International Airport’s (DEN) original 1989 master plan outlined a series of multi-generational investments in the airport to support regional growth. Today, the $500 million South Terminal Redevelopment Program marks the continuation of the original plan, including a world-class hotel and a train station for the rail line connecting DEN with downtown’s Denver Union Station.

Gensler’s design for the program promises to strengthen DEN’s connection to the city — providing travelers a rapid means to get downtown — while turning the airport into a travel destination, elevating the experience of the airport before and after take-off.


A large glass ceiling with people walking around.

Celebrating Its Context

The South Terminal Redevelopment Program comprises three independent, yet physically integrated projects designed by Gensler: the 500-room Westin Hotel and conference center; a public transit center, including an RTD East Rail Line station and improvements to the existing concourse baggage and train systems; and a welcoming, community-oriented plaza for public programming and events.

Drawing inspiration from the city’s majestic natural surroundings, the hotel is a sweeping form in steel and glass located above the transit center. This single integrated building is notable for its signature “saddle” element, which frames the mountains, downtown Denver, and the iconic Jeppesen Terminal.

A large glass dome with people around it.

Setting a New Standard

Slated for completion in 2015, DEN’s South Terminal Redevelopment Program will serve as a catalyst for economic growth in the Denver metro region, creating nearly 1,000 new jobs. Beyond the immediate benefits generated by the project, airport officials expect it to set a benchmark for airports in the 21st century, just as the Jeppesen terminal did in the previous one.

The program marks the beginning of Denver’s plans for an “Airport City,” the creation of which will leverage the airport and its connectivity to regional assets to promote tourism, spur economic diversification and attract international investment.



Gensler Firmwide Communications and Public Relations Portions of this story appeared in the Gensler Dialogue 21 article “You First”

Images DEN, South Terminal Redevelopment, Project Team
Incheon International Airport, Terminal 2, Project Team

Leah Ray (Gensler Firmwide Media Relations)

Additional Information
Denver International Airport South Terminal Redevelopment: Press Release GenslerOn Blog: “Can an Airport Change a City” by Jennifer Johnson (Gensler Denver)