How Plants Can Improve the Airport Experience 1

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015
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Airports are often a place of considerable waiting.

Passengers can spend hours waiting to embark on a flight, as can families waiting for a loved one’s arrival or commuters in the midst of the sometimes lengthy and weary stopover.

This wait usually occurs in a bright airport space, met with glossy white floors, stark fluorescent light, and very basic seating (if you can find one).

Most airports work tirelessly to provide seating areas close to food, retail and Wi-Fi amenities to occupy travellers. However, there is a new wave of airports looking to inject nature into their spaces as a method of relaxation for waiting guests.

Nature has long been noted for its ability to rejuvenate, increase productivity and help speed up patient recovery , as seen with healing gardens in health spaces.

University of Technology Sydney research found that through the addition of indoor plants:

  • VOCs can be reduced by over 80 per cent to below 100 parts per billion
  • C02 is reduced by 10 to 25 per cent
  • CO (carbon monoxide) is reduced by up to 90 per cent
  • Where HVAC contributes to sick building syndrome, plants can help ease headaches and fatigue

Studies conducted by NC State University show that trees can absorb and block noise, with a well placed tree able to reduce the noise by as much as 40 per cent. This can again improve the airport experience by removing excess noise and creating a space away from high traffic passenger areas.

Singapore Changi Airport is working on a major new addition to its air hub that could be a catalyst for change in airport greenery.

The project, also known as Jewel Changi Airport (Jewel), is being carried out by architect Moshe Safdie. It will see a large and lush indoor garden that will sit within a glass and steel dome.

Safdie's Jewel Forest Valley Concept for Singapore Changi Airport

Safdie’s Jewel Forest Valley concept for Singapore Changi Airport

According to a statement from Safdie Architects, the two centrepieces of the project will be an indoor landscape of trees, palms, ferns with walking trails, and a 40-metre tall waterfall that will cascade from an oculus at the top of the glass dome.

“Our goal was to bring together the duality of a vibrant marketplace and a great urban park side-by-side in a singular and immersive experience,” said Safdie.

Even the columns which hold up the dome are designed to look like tree structures. The columns ring the inside edge of the roof garden and offer a gathering space at the top level – also known as the roof garden or Canopy park.

The project will accommodate easy connections from the green space to the airport terminals.

There is a also vertical ‘green wall’ garden in Terminal 3 at the current Changi Airport, along with five themed gardens and an indoor six-metre waterfall tended by 200 gardeners. The two-storey butterfly garden has jungle plants and 1,000 butterflies native to Singapore and Malaysia. Forest Valley will further build on these green spaces.

Over in Chicago, the O’Hare International Airport has installed an aeroponic garden that sits at the centre of a lounge area where travellers can can relax or enjoy a meal.

The Aeroponic Garden provides local produce for the food retailers within the airport

O’Hare’s aeroponic garden provides local produce for the food retailers within the airport

The garden has plants suspended in 26 eight-foot columns that house over 1,100 planting spots.

“A nutrient solution is regularly cycled through the towers using pumps so that no water evaporates or is wasted, making the process self-sustaining,” the airport states. “No fertilisers or chemicals are used in the garden.”

O’Hare is utilising the project not just to clean the air and provide a natural oasis. The garden also helps travelers learn about the benefits of producing locally grown food from an economic and environmental perspective.

In a bid to alleviate stress from airport guests, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport offers a faux garden which features ivy-coloured furniture, green flooring, bench tree logs and digital butterflies across a 20,000 square foot space. According to Independent Traveller, you can even pop on a stationary bike in the space.

The airport also has an outdoor terrace with live trees and foliage for travellers who prefer the real thing.

All of these projects have been created to create a natural, anxiety-free setting for travellers to retreat to within what is generally a busy and commercial environment.

Amsterdam Airport's faux garden looks to mimic nature for guest relaxation

Amsterdam Airport’s faux garden looks to mimic nature for guest relaxation

Darwin International Airport features an outdoor Matboerrma Garden, which was actually designed to showcase native flora from the Top End of Australia.

The garden sits between the terminal carpark, the airport hotels and the management precinct and offers a short stroll along a shaded path with wayfindng signs.

It offers seating facilities and a pond, and allows airport hotel guests and even staff a place to relax.

Ecological artist Lloyd Godman suggests air plants could be a good solution for airports, as they improve air quality and act as bio-monitors.

“Many plants can actually take the heavy metals (such as fuel or brakes on the aeroplane) out of the atmosphere through their leaves,” Godman said, citing tillandsias as an appropriate plant for use. “So… instead of setting out monitoring stations through a city to find out where the areas of heavy pollution such as lead and cadmium, you can just grow tillandsias, remove a leaf, conduct an experiment and understand the concentrations.”

Of course, plants should be chosen based on their ability to survive both indoors and within the given climate. Height, natural light requirements and self-watering or soil-free air plants will offer lower maintenance, making the gardens far more viable.

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  1. Jurgen S.

    Undoubtedly the case that plans make for a more pleasant airport experience. I found this to be especially the case in hot humid climates like Darwin.