Stacey: How long have you worked in aviation design and what drew you to this sector?
Karen: We began our aviation sector practice in the mid 1980s when, as a Philadelphia-based, woman-owned business, we were first asked to join a national design team responding to a formal RFP process to create design standards for the Philadelphia International Airport. We were invited to participate as the team's interior, environmental graphics, and way-finding designers. Our team was awarded the project and we created a highly flexible design standard, which has evolved over the years and remains the basis of design for renovation, expansion and new terminal design projects.
Stacey: Transportation centers are often mixed-use facilities. How do you design a space that serves many purposes yet creates a sense of place?
Karen: That's always a challenge. There are many pressures today to satisfy the complex and continually evolving programmatic requirements of transportation centers. Because traveling has become increasingly stressful, it is our goal as architects and designers to create an environment that provides intuitive wayfinding and a sense of comfort and orientation to the traveling public, especially with today's enhanced security requirements.
We believe it is essential to create a unified architectural vocabulary that creates a strong overarching identity. A sense of place can be perceived at both a macro and micro scale. In very large facilities, like an airport, a "place" within the place aids in understanding the circulation paths by serving as internal landmarks.
We reinforce intuitive wayfinding by changes in materials, colors and textures that subliminally serve to orient and define the sense of place.
Stacey: As airports and other transportation hubs are temporary hospitality spaces, tell us about your considerations for the experience.
Karen: We have worked extensively in the hospitality field for many years. It is one of our strengths as a firm and we have been able to leverage and cross-pollinate our experience to create comfortable and user-friendly spaces that are able to stand up to high-use needs but remain focused on the passenger experience.
We enjoy the opportunity to bring our hospitality, food and beverage and environmental graphic design experience to create uplifting and visually exciting airport environments. We are all about creating and incorporating convenience and amenities for the traveling public. Passengers need access to receptacles for powering up electronic devices, access to Wi-Fi and more comfortable seating and lighting.
Stacey: Give us an example of a project that you worked on where the design was progressive or unusual.
Karen: The Terminal D/E project at Philadelphia International Airport was originally conceived as multiple isolated building additions to expand ticketing, gates, baggage claim and two security check points for two terminals. We provided a new master planning approach that included creating a link to consolidate the security screening checkpoint into a larger, more flexible feature that is easier to operate and manage. We expanded ticketing within the current building footprint and introduced a new 'Checked Baggage Inspection System' to allow removal of the screening function from the ticket lobbies and streamline baggage screening. The project evolved to include a significant expansion to concession amenities and new offices for the Division of Aviation.
The solution involved the creation of large column-free floors utilizing long span trusses that were supported on the columns of an existing passenger bridge. We found we could utilize the existing bridge structure, thereby eliminating the need to demolish and relocate not only the passenger connector but the existing utility backbone as well. The trusses created large column-free areas on two floors. This allowed us free reign in the design of the facility, including baggage make-up, passenger screening areas, and concessions. In the future these areas can be reconfigured to respond to changing needs without columns inhibiting the layout. Long-term flexibility was a primary consideration.
Stacey: How will technology affect aviation design?
Karen: Technology is constantly evolving and aviation facilities must evolve to match. The facility at PHL is designed for future conversion to a "common use" facility that will allow even greater flexibility in managing how the airport's assets are utilized. The baggage handling system, while currently installed with traditional optical bag tag reader technology is designed to easily convert to RFID technology in the future as it is embraced by the airlines. The passenger screening areas were designed with a number of configurations in mind including full body imaging and next-generation bag scanning technologies, which are gaining wider acceptance. Data and telecom rooms were designed with a large capacity for expansion, and copper and fiber cabling was installed with extensive additional capacity. Designing spaces that are flexible enough to accommodate future technologies is critical.
Stacey: Tell us something fun that we might not know about you.
Karen: These days, I seem to spend more time in airports than I do at home. It gives me great pleasure, however, to travel through airports that we have designed, such as the Philadelphia International Airport and the JetBlue Terminal at JFK, where we served as the associate designer. We opened an office in Shanghai a few years ago and I do the 14 hour flight to China every few months–in addition to lots of domestic travel. I actually enjoy traveling, and I see my time "Up In The Air" as little mini vacations. I personally think the IPod is the greatest invention since fire, and I travel with two fully loaded with the latest episodes of Lost, 24, and my guilty pleasure Gossip Girl, as well as lots of snacks and a great book. And no Blackberry reception! For me, it doesn't get better than that.