Included for all – Airport World

SOM Associate Director Jordan Pierce explains how incorporating inclusiveness and accessibility into the design of its new terminal will ensure a warm welcome to all passengers at Kansas City International Airport.

Can we pump barbecue smells into the terminal? Asked a gentleman. “You’ll know where you are as soon as you get off the plane.”

At each of the three dozen community meetings that our team from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) attended in Kansas City, we responded to a plethora of requests and all kinds of ideas for the design of a new building. million square feet of the area. Terminal.

Many have called for more charging stations, better toilets, or that they be centered on a fountain, just like those that adorn the boulevards for which the city is known. Above all, the participants asked for the terminal to be comfortable, practical and welcoming for all.

Although our company designed aviation projects in Seattle, Toronto, Mumbai, Dublin and Bangalore to name a few, Kansas City International Airport (KCI) was different. Voters approved the construction of the terminal by public referendum, and the process called for several rounds of open meetings. It gave us the extraordinary opportunity to hear directly from the traveling public before we even put pen to paper.

As of 2017, our team has deployed to six city council districts and neighboring Kansas. We have met thousands of citizens in community centers, police stations and churches. We quickly learned the depth of Kansas citizens’ sentiment for their airport and what their aspirations for the terminal were.

As architects, planners and engineers, we see these buildings not only as civic structures, but as embodiments of a community’s character and values. When a traveler steps off a boarding bridge, the terminal is their first impression of their destination.

It is our responsibility to convey a sense of belonging through the architecture of the terminal. For the Kansas City area, that meant creating a certain Midwestern hospitality – a welcoming character that invites all people of all backgrounds and abilities into the terminal.

The mandate of inclusion that we heard at these community meetings was reinforced when the mayor and city council issued a resolution calling for the terminal to be “the most accessible in the world”.

Even though the challenge was great, we found a willing and knowledgeable partner in the Kansas City Department of Aviation, whose leadership was committed to seeing these values ​​come to fruition in construction.

In the 30 years since its enactment, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) revolutionized the built environment, removing the physical barriers that really prevented large numbers of people from accessing public space and therefore accessing public space. public life. At SOM, we have come to believe that the revolutionary ADA in its day is just a starting point.

Following the accessibility resolution, we have broadened our reach. In addition to the general public, we met with advocacy groups, families of children with disabilities, and the local LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce – groups that gave us valuable insight into how we might prioritize access.

Inclusiveness through smart planning

The key to designing an accessible terminal is a careful approach to planning the layout of the building. Intuitive and navigable buildings benefit all users, regardless of their ability.

The design process began with a thorough analysis of the flight program as well as the proposed program – the list of rooms and facilities needed to operate the terminal. In collaboration with the aviation department and the airlines, we sized the terminal correctly. Effective planning has enabled us to reduce construction costs, shorten walking distances and improve the passenger experience.

For passengers with reduced mobility, wheelchair users and even families with young children, level changes can be a big challenge when traveling. In Kansas City, instead of building an underground bridge or tunnel, the team created an above-ground passage that connects the two halls of the building.

This “connector” remains at the registration and security level. Glass walls on both sides provide a breathtaking view of the airfield. This arrangement eliminates the need for escalators and gives passengers a consistent visual reference for their position in the path from the boarding gate to baggage claim.

Beyond the requirements

Although the ADA acted as a guide, the project team found every opportunity to exceed the requirements on items large and small. We’ve included more, larger (and larger) service animal relief areas
curbs for wheelchair access and larger fonts on signage.

Rather than interspersing a few wheelchair accessible counters throughout the building, each boarding desk, check-in position, and information desk is set to an ADA-accessible height.

The toilet can be the most difficult part of air travel for many passengers. In the new Kansas City terminal, each booth exceeds the required dimensions. Their doors open outward to allow passengers to bring bags inside. Each sanitary block has a dedicated breastfeeding room, a family toilet and a changing room, with a bench and a full-length mirror.

Parents of adult children with disabilities have requested changing tables that can accommodate them; two of the family toilets contain motorized adjustable tables for this purpose.

The spirit of inclusion extends beyond the capacity for identity. Two large toilets with 24 and 28 stalls are designated as “all kinds”. These toilets will contain floor-to-ceiling partitions for more privacy and grouped sinks. While much of the conversation regarding the all-gender toilet has focused on the trans community, we have seen great benefits for all users.

At KCI, passengers will no longer encounter long lines for the women’s room while the booths remain empty in the men’s room. Parents traveling with children who are too young to use the toilet on their own and too old to feel comfortable in a toilet designed for the opposite sex will no longer have to make a choice. Benches with a view of the stall doors allow them to monitor their loads.

Amenities for all passengers

The experience of flying can be stressful, overwhelming and uncomfortable. For children with autism or those suffering from sensory processing disorders, the activity and the lack of knowledge of the airport can
be atrocious.

In all types of buildings, including aviation, we have increasingly seen the inclusion of sensory rooms in construction programs. These spaces provide a calm respite from terminal activity, with soothing lighting, sound-absorbing materials, and attractive play areas. At KCI, the Sensory Room will divide into a series of more intimate play spaces, giving children and their families a sense of privacy as they prepare to board or rest after a long trip.

For passengers with dementia, air travel can be just as disorienting. Working closely with a local dementia advocacy group, we adapted the design of a silent room – a program commonly referred to as a non-denominational chapel – into a space that can accommodate prayer and meditation or give to people with dementia a place to prepare for travel.

In engaging with these groups, we found that simple adjustments, such as providing movable seats for fellow travelers, could make the difference in creating a comfortable passenger experience.

The terminal’s airplane simulation room will provide passengers unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with air travel the opportunity to perform a “test drive” in the days leading up to travel. After making an appointment with airport staff, visitors will be led through security and into a room that simulates the look, lighting, and feel of boarding a plane.

Located in a hallway designed to resemble a jet bridge, the simulation room contains the actual components of a Boeing 757, including a bulkhead, seats, and even a (non-functional) lavatory.

Access to the terminal, access to the world

Air travel opens the world for passengers – giving them the chance to have a new grandchild in a distant city, see works of art they only knew from books, or explore the back alleys. winding ancient towns.

These journeys begin and end in the buildings we design. If these terminals are not accessible and inclusive, we close the possibility of these experiences to large segments of the public.

As we designed the new terminal at Kansas City International Airport, due to open in March 2023, we saw the remarkable benefits to be gained by working closely with local communities to develop projects that welcome everyone.


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