Rethinking the Airport Passenger Experience – The BaltiCloud Terminal

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Perspective view of arrivals concourse level with “cloud” EFTE roof structure above – Riga Terminal design concept for AirBaltic Airlines.  Rendering courtesy of Hartnessvision, in collaboration with XChange Architects

As we kick off the busy summer travel season, we were interested to read Vanity Fair architecture contributor and former New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger’s observations of the modern passenger experience in today’s airports.  In a CNN article, entitled “Airports where the architecture soars, ” he laments that there really is no “there” in many of today’s passenger terminals; these proverbial 21st Century global gateways that (in many cases) now fill the role formerly held by the grand urban rail stations in welcoming arriving visitors.

Mr. Goldberger noted:

Where they exist at airports, the more impressive spaces are usually located in the airports’ departure halls. Those passengers are rushing to clear security and catch flights and don’t have time to appreciate their space. The arrivals hall usually doesn’t inspire much.

For baggage access reasons and the sad reality that most arriving passengers are generally motivated to get as far away from the airport as possible, it is not all that unusual to find arrivals halls – with baggage claim devices and customs screening facilities – located on the very bottom and being fairly uninspiring spaces to greet travelers into a city.  Many new airport passenger terminals are reconsidering this paradigm, both at airports with a large proportion of travelers ending their journey at the airport as well as those with a significant population of passengers connecting to other flights where the arriving “gateway” experience and the immigration / customs clearance process really matters and may affect passenger decisions when selecting air travel alternatives.

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Airside aerial of the proposed “BaltiCloud” Terminal, evening view with downtown Riga in the background.

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Preliminary geometric studies of the EFTE “cloud” roof in 3D Studio MAX.  Screenshots courtesy of Hartnessvision LLC.

In a joint effort to develop a new terminal design concept in collaboration with Hartnessvision LLC, for a new passenger terminal in Riga, Latvia, for their primary air carrier, AirBaltic, we chose to literally invert the sectional arrangement of the arrivals and departures flows as well as the way we conceive the roof of the passenger terminal building.  We were intrigued by the possibilities of an EFTE plastic membrane in offering a virtually roof-less airport experience.  Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, or EFTE, is a highly durable and tensile plastic membrane with a high range of temperature and climatic tolerance.  Made famous in the 2008 Water Cube pavillion in the Beijing Olympics, we believe very strongly in the possibilities of integrating this dynamic enclosure material to “dematerialize” the roof.

Our terminal design concept, which we refer to as the “BaltiCloud” –  a play on the Air Baltic identity and the notion of the building as a simple floating cloud – is characterized by 2 simple ideas of re-introducing passengers with the unique sensibilities of air travel:  first, the inversion of the arrivals (above) and departures (below) experience and second, the introduction of a simple, but multi-functional cloud roof serving to both eliminate the all-too-common dreary travel experience while using EFTE air pillows of varying opacity to serve as a way-finding device.

Without compromising functionality, safety, and operational excellence, we like to think that design is the glue that synthesizes all of the core elements that define successful, world-class transportation facilities.  These lines of enquiry provided us a vehicle to debate and rethink the airport passenger building type and most importantly, the potential re-imagination of the passenger air travel experience.

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Exploded axonometric view of the proposed terminal facilities – Riga International Airport, Latvia

All photographs, images and drawings copyright Hartnessvision LLC and XChange Architects LLC, unless otherwise noted.

Take Back the Streets (Part Deux): UBurger Faneuil Hall

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Proposed sidewalk cafe,  UBurger at Faneuil Hall – 16-18 North Street

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Existing sidewalk conditions at 16-18 North Street, adjacent to the Millennium Hotel at Faneuil Hall

It’s the first of June and time for our restaurant clients to get their sidewalk cafes up and running.  We’re delighted to have been invited by the Management Team at UBurger at Faneuil Hall to help design their new sidewalk cafe this spring and assist in renewing the establishment’s lease agreement with the City of Boston Public Improvement Commission and Department of Public Works.

New restaurant applicants in the City of Boston shall contact the City’s Public Improvement Commission (PIC) to initiate the application and approvals process for their sidewalk cafe.  For those taking over existing restaurant occupancies: 1) check your Common Victualler (CV) license to verify if you have been approved for outdoor seating, 2) determine if the previous establishment was issued a valid sidewalk cafe permit and agreement, and 3) if you have both, provide evidence of both documents and prepare a letter requesting the renewal of the permit.  Please consult with your licensed design professionals (e.g. engineers, landscape architects, and architects) for assistance in the design and permitting process.  Here’s to a spectacular outdoor dining season in Boston!

PLANTER DESIGN CONCEPT – Taking advantage of remaining interior metal siding material left over from the interior construction, we are re-purposing them into our sidewalk planters to help tie-in the sidewalk cafe into the overall interior architecture.  All DIY legwork, elbowgrease, haggling and heartache courtesy of Co-owner, George Gianarikas.

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All photographs, images and drawings copyright XChange Architects LLC, unless otherwise noted.

Capacity Enhancement – Michael’s Deli of Coolidge Corner

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What you see is what you get at Mike’s – image courtesy Michael’s Deli

For those who may not be familiar with the notorious “dining-in experience” at Mike’s Deli at 256 Harvard Street in Brookline, across the street from the Coolidge Corner T Station (hint – refer to the Yelp reviews of this place prior to May 2012…), this will soon be the stuff of urban legend and Brookline restaurant lore as we are delighted to be assisting the new management – led by hospitality veteran, Steven Peljovich – in updating the restaurant’s seating capacity this month.

We encourage restaurant operators to review occupancy permits prior to renewal to ensure that their businesses have the seating capacity that they are entitled to.  In permitting restaurants in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, there is a confluence (and sometimes, confusion) of building codes and guidelines that affect the determination of the total allowable seating capacity in the customer dining area – including but not limited to 780 CMR – State Building Code (currently in its 8th Ed, with concurrence with the IBC), 521 CMR – State Accessibility Code (Massachusetts Architectural Access Board) and 248 CMR – Uniform State Plumbing Code.  In some municipalities, additional restaurant seating may also trigger an increase in off-street parking requirements.  When exploring seating changes, consider consulting your local design professional to identify and weigh the implications of your design alternatives.

Congratulations are in order to Steven and his team on their successful inaugural year here in Coolidge Corner.

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Proposed Indoor Customer Seating Plan – 256 Harvard Street

All photographs, images and drawings copyright XChange Architects LLC, unless otherwise noted.

Greenovate Boston launched!

The City of Boston honored its 2013 Greenovate Award Winners yesterday and concurrently launched a new sustainability initiative.  Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s Greenovate Boston program is a comprehensive outreach and communications effort to make sustainability principles accessible to the Boston populace.  As the Mayor succinctly puts it:

“We have to make the sustainability issue understandable to everyone…I call it turning the science talk into sidewalk talk. We have to make this more explainable to the folks out in those neighborhoods.”

The objectives of this program are to:

  • Reach every Boston resident and business through its programming and outreach efforts, in order to have them understand how their individual actions affect a sustainable future for Boston.
  • Engage one-third of Boston residents to take one new, daily climate action per year, examples of which  include driving one day a week less, unplugging the television at night, or using cold water when doing laundry.
  • Engage businesses constituting one-third of Boston’s employees to form their own in-house sustainability teams, or to participate in existing sustainability initiatives.

In 2009, we were invited by the Boston Society of Architects and The Boston Business Journal to participate in a charette to explore the future of the Boston skyline.  At the time, we argued that the future of the Boston skyline may not necessarily be about “what” we add to it, but rather by how we enhance what is already there.  In this exploration – referred to as “Back Bay 2.0” – we explored the  greening and progressive rehabilitation of some of the extent structures in the Back Bay District, consisting of the venerable John Hancock Tower and the Prudential complex towers.  Our proposed additions to these towers envisaged a combination of wind farms, vertical hydroponic  agriculture, as well as new business incubator facilities.

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Skyline perspective – “Back Bay 2.0” redevelopment concept

This and other concepts for the re-imagination of the Boston skyline were shared on a NECN broadcast and a special edition of the Boston Business Journal in the fall of 2009.

All photographs, images and drawings copyright XChange Architects LLC, unless otherwise noted.

The Biscayne Bird – a Seaplane Terminal for Watson Island


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Dawntown Miami announced the results of their 2013 design competition last week for a forward-thinking landmark for the City of Miami.  Since 2008, Dawntown Miami has been hosting annual design competitions that facilitate a healthy dialogue about the City of Miami and its evolving urban condition.  Competition topics range from new ideas for metromover stations to sewer pump stations to a concept for a seaplane terminal.

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Site plan and perspectives – Watson Island

We participated in the Dawntown 2010 ideas competition for a new seaplane terminal on Watson Island – located along the Biscayne Bay across from downtown Miami.  Coincidentally, a new tunnel boring connection between the Island and the Port of Miami was completed last week.  Inspired by the unique vantage point of the Island (vis-à-vis the City) and its bio-diversity, our proposal, “The Biscayne Bird,” explores an architectural and urban design solution that both harmonizes with the site’s natural and man-made assets and stands alone as a distinctive public space to see and be seen.

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Diagrams

The Bird – a singular massing concept was deployed to optimize the use of the space-constrained site while giving the building its own unique waterfront presence.  The proposal seamlessly integrates public access to the waterfront with the operational requirements of a modern seaplane terminal.  The resultant form at once responds to the Biscayne Bay context while harmonizing with the natural open space that is an integral part of Watson Island. The design’s response to the operational and sustainability objectives raised by the competition resulted in a form evoking the spirit of the seagulls in the immediate area – connecting air, sea and land.

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Building section illustrating sustainable design elements in the new seaplane terminal building

All photographs, images and drawings copyright XChange Architects LLC, unless otherwise noted.

Battery Conservancy Chair Design Competition Entry: A Seat for the Seasons

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Perspective – “Seat for the Seasons” outdoor seating prototype along the new Battery Green oval

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Outdoor Seating Prototype – unfolding sequence

The Battery Conservancy in Lower Manhattan has announced the results of their 2012 Draw Up A Chair Competition.  The competition, launched last fall, seeks to identify a winning permanent outdoor chair design for Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, New York City.  According to the Conservancy website:

The design competition has three phases. The first phase is an open design competition. In the second phase, the jury will select Top Designs and Finalists, which will be featured online and on exhibition banners in the park. The Battery Conservancy will develop full-scale prototypes of the Finalists’ Designs and has been invited by Design Miami/ to exhibit these prototypes. In the third phase, the winner(s) will be awarded a cash prize and their designs will go into fabrication for use in the new Battery Green, a 3-acre oval at the park’s Broadway entrance, scheduled to open in 2014.

This is a great step forward in the post-Hurricane Sandy revival of the Lower Manhattan area.  Hearty congratulations to the Conservancy, the competition finalists and the top 50 designs.

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Draw Up a Chair Competition Board – “A Chair for the Seasons,” copyright Derrick Choi AIA & XChange Architects LLC

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Process book diagram of first principles – copyright Derrick Choi AIA & XChange Architects LLC

We have posted some of our studio’s ideas and one of the submission boards we prepared to the competition.

Entitled, “A Seat for the Seasons,” our concept for a seating prototype integrates the repurposed wood bench slat stock with a high-density polyethylene seating shell.  The end result is a new flexible outdoor furniture concept that would be comfortable, yet vastly reconfigurable for myriad Battery Green events and resilient enough to operate throughout the year in the Battery.

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Perspective – chair prototype in its retracted setting & curvilinear configuration by the East Coast Memorial

All photographs, images and drawings copyright XChange Architects LLC, unless otherwise noted.