New Gates for Asia
Steel trusses are flattened against the roof plane, dipping below it in a curve that continues the lines of the cables above and reinforces references to the curves of traditional Korean roof tops.
The glassy expanse of the curtain wall opens the concourse areas to the sky and the drama of arriving and departing aircraft. In the foreground, the concourse is lined with banks, money exchanges, holding areas, and duty-free shops.
A system of moving sidewalks ensures that no one has to walk more than 400 feet (120 meters) to reach a gate. Departing and transferring passengers with time on their hands can make use of a convenient and fully equipped business center. For even longer stays, there is a small city of services and restaurants on the mezzanine level.
Into the Wild Blue Yonder
There is more excitement in store for the final stage of departure. After taking advantage of the many opportunities in the concourse and settling in the holding areas, passengers enter permanent glass bridges that take them out to the jetway and onto the plane.
This moment of visual connection with parked and taxiing jets stands in sharp contrast to the ubiquitous dark tunnel to and from the aircraft portals at other airports. At Incheon, the glass bridge repeats at all of the 46 gates.
Arrival at Incheon is literally staged, with passengers entering the airport on a translucent mezzanine from which they descend to the meeters-and-greeters areas and baggage claim.
On the opposite side of the building, those entering the airport from the curbside can look down from another mezzanine, choosing several different ways to descend. An exception to the typical airport plan, baggage claim at the first level below is bright, open, and clearly visible from several vantage points.
Farther below, the first basement level is designed around the new rail system that connects Incheon Airport to Seoul, 30 miles (50 kilometers) away. Disbursed throughout the connecting lobby on the land side are vertical cores connecting to the Great Hall and to arrival and departure levels. Concessions line the other.
From the center of the lobby, the glow of natural light shines through the glass floor of the Great Hall, a signal of the large, hospitable space above. Lower still, a second basement level will accommodate the future intra-airport transit system.
Incheon is true to the green heart of the airport interior, bringing high-tech environmentalism to the next level. From the dredging methods to the water-tight barrier, the building was designed to sit lightly on its pile-supported foundation.
There is a comprehensive recycling program built into the plan of the building. Noise levels and ocean ecosystem and air pollution impact data are constantly collected and analyzed.
Finally, daylight penetrates every level of the airport itself, helping to grow the tall Korean Pines in the Great Hall while it increases energy efficiency.
Clair Enlow is a writer and architecture critic in Seattle and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.