LAX Terminal Design That's Worth the Wait

I hate waiting, be it for dentists, doctors, movies, restaurant tables, meetings, births, arriving planes and departing planes; indeed, almost anything.

Some people, while waiting, apparently can read, knit, do their nails, doze, meditate or simply vegetate with what seems a contented purpose. I can't.

For me, waiting is a non-activity, a void of time that I tend to fill with random thoughts and emotions, depending on what I am waiting for--a late plane with a loved one aboard, or, say, root canal surgery. One productive process I often engage in, however, is to examine the design and style of the surroundings; the mood, view and scale of the space; the flow of people through it; the function of the furnishings and fixtures, and the color schemes and lighting.

Much of what I see is bad or banal. There are medical waiting rooms that try to be modern and relaxed but look like motel lobbies; corporate reception areas draped in leather, chrome and wall hangings that take on the shallow aesthetic of furniture showrooms, and government offices that are as friendly and fragrant as a meat packing plant, but usually not as functional.

These thoughts came to mind recently while I waited to meet relatives arriving at LAX at various times at three different terminals. Thanks to an efficient roadway system and luck finding parking spaces, I was early each time. The planes were late, giving me a lot of time to experience the terminals.

Two of the terminals were anonymous, noisy expanses, with regimented seating and limited views, a place at best for processing people. As such, they were typical, unfriendly airline waiting areas. The third was the recently completed first stage of a remodeled and expanded Delta Air Lines terminal, and it was a delight.

Definitely Los Angeles

Here at last is a terminal at LAX that through its designs announces to all that they are in Los Angeles. Palm and citrus trees, exotic plantings, Art Deco detailing, subtle "hot" and "cool" lighting, and varying terraces and seating areas were evocative, welcoming and comfortable.

What the design firm of Gensler & Associates Architects has created under the roof of a terminal is the beginning of a palm-shaded Southern California pedestrian streetscape, lined with clusters of shops and restaurants, sidewalk cafes, parks, and an array of seating and planting areas.

Assisting in the ambitious design effort is the firm of Lawrence Reed Moline Associates, landscape architects, and Ruben John Lomeli & Associates, lighting consultants. Engineering and construction management of the sprawling project, due to be completed this summer, is being provided by the firm of DMJM.

"We want to make people feel they are out of doors, walking along a street, or sitting in a park," project designer Andy Cohen explained. He said the lighting was designed to create the feeling of being under a sky and the various seating areas shaped and sited to allow people to view the passing parade of passengers, or look at the planes, or find a quiet spot to read or think.

The clusters of passive and active areas were quite calculated.

"We wanted to create a sequence of events lining the street to lead passengers along, and shorten the experience of going from ticketing to the plane," project manager Ron Steinert said. "And we didn't want people waiting for a plane to feel they were in a room and confined."

According to Edward Friedrichs of Gensler, the design grew out of a concern of the architects and the client, originally Western Airlines before it was absorbed into Delta, that the waiting experience not be a static one.

"They recognized that LAX was a hub terminal where a lot of passengers would be waiting for planes, and that a waiting passenger tends to be a disgruntled passenger," Friedrichs said. "Waiting is a big complaint, so a decision was made to concentrate on how waiting can be made more pleasant."

I still hate waiting, and try to avoid it however I can. But in what Gensler and Delta have so far created at LAX there is the promise of at least a tolerable purgatory for those waiting, and an affable architectural welcome for those arriving.

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