The proposed study and its international framework is a reflection of my professional vita and my life as a global citizen. Having attended four universities in Europe and the United States (master degree from Harvard University, master equivalent degree from the University of Hannover, Germany), I have since lived and worked on three continents as an architect. During this time the theory-driven discourse on architecture was always of interest for me next to the actual practice of architecture. My two theses at university for example were written works exploring contemporary phenomena in relation to architecture, urbanism, and mobility. At the University of Hannover, I was able to study the correlations between mobility and city in depth in my thesis about European high-speed railway stations (research was sponsored by two stipends). At Harvard I sharpened my research tools and methods further, especially since Rem Koolhaas, one of the most influential architects and theoreticians of our times, was my teacher. I am returning in my dissertation to the above mentioned correlations since the discourse between academic theory and architectural practice and working within both poles is important for my professional belief.
In my dissertation at the University of Stuttgart (Professor Dr. Johann Jessen), I want to explore the relationship between architecture, urbanism, and mobility again.
When thinking about the interplay and dependencies of urban life and mobility, the airport amongst all other typologies of transportation buildings has inherently maintained autonomy from general perceptions of urbanity and still seems incompatible with ideas of metropolitan life given its typically exurban location and hermetic nature. It has been proposed, however, that in the last ten years, the airport’s lack of urban qualities and interaction with the city has triggered airport developments that attempt to establish urban attributes through the airports’ sheer size and increasing levels of services and amenities. Although this urbanity remains incomplete today and cannot be seen as a surrogate for traditional city life, the airport’s simulation of urbanity by the introduction or broadening of city-specific and previously airport-extrinsic programs is able to generate a novel form of urbanity. This transient urbanity is generated by all services provided at airports and by the mobility patterns of thousands of travelers in constant motion compacted into the footprint of the airport. Whereas this urbanity necessitates an increase in what has always been an important part of the airports’ amenities and services (hospitality, business, retail, entertainment), these functions – augmented by programs that are not primarily related to the key functions of the airport – reach a new density level in recent developments and generate a stylized form of metropolitan life inside the airport. The densification effects of transient urbanity can also be witnessed within the airport’s surroundings that are on the verge of becoming new multifunctional, sought-after sub-city districts with high technology, industrial and business parks, shopping malls, and residential complexes.
The motion-related concept of transient urbanity is unique for transportation buildings and especially for airports. It exists despite the airports’ total disassociation and seclusion from urban entities. Particularly interesting is that the airport’s notion of urbanism and metropolitan lifestyle is a global one, since each airport is part of the polycentric network of international hubs and nodes. In my view, transient urbanity is the ultimate expression of the global life and travel behaviors of contemporary society, generated by society’s desire to extend mobility and movement. Over time, this mobility-based urbanity could become the breeding ground for a completely new generation and typology of transportation buildings and give rise to a new form of mobility-driven urbanism that could reshape the relationship between city and mobility in the 21st century through the airport in a similarly profound way as did railway stations and the automobile in the 20th century, even without having direct repercussions on the city. For me it is intriguing that jet aviation and airports, though considerably nascent phenomena could trigger such developments. Already today, the airport is in the middle of this rapid change from a necessary, but exiled functionalist apparatus at the city’s outskirts to a nucleus of new urban territories; from a mostly monofunctional entity to a multifunctional, revenue-generating complex organism. Even though the airport and its surroundings have been the object of many research efforts of various disciplines, this rapid change has not been analyzed thoroughly from a design standpoint. It remains unclear, how this process of change can be best accompanied and led regarding planning and design. This is what I would like to focus on in my dissertation. Since I understand the design and planning of airports and airport cities as products of transient urbanity, my dissertation compares a selection of airports that convince in terms of layout and design, show innovative and forward-thinking solutions and offer a variety and density of uses. This comparative case study shall be guided by the questions of:
1. how the current state of the typology will have to change architecturally and urbanistically in order to accommodate the new spatial, functional, and organizational demands and to withstand regional and global competition
2. what tools and methods are employed for basic planning principles, spatial layouts, allocation and mix of functions, how effective they are and which ones will gain special importance for the future
3. which relationships and connections nurture and intensive the relationships between airport and airport city
4. how airports can achieve or have already achieved their self-propagated claim of becoming city surrogates and what kind of urbanity they are able to create
5. how transient urbanity manifests itself physically and is expressed and characterized in architecture and urbanism
Structure of Study
To be able to deliver these goals, the study will work along two research branches: a theoretical/abstract and a practical/analytical one. The theoretical part will act as the hypothetical framework of my work and elaborate on the concept of transient urbanity. While exploring social, economical, and ecological paths, this framework will focus on the spatial and tectonic characteristics of the airport. The second part of the study is a comparison of hub airport projects from around the world. This part will be based on a month-long field trip to each airport. A third part will compare all projects, relate them back to the first part and draw generalizable conclusions. These conclusions should yield a set of best practice rules and recommendations for airport design and the more general paring of mobility, architecture, and urbanism. They should demonstrate that airports and cities can not only coexist, but profit from each other and are part of one and the same city landscape.