They embody the very promise of travel. Multicultural islands of escape, airports are the first, big step of every departure and every return. It was precisely this aura that architects Lukas and Theofanis Bobotis of Bobotis+Bobotis Architects tried to tap into when designing the new airport for Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki Airport Makedonia, to use its official name, is one of the 14 regional airports renovated by operator consortium Fraport Greece, which invested 440 million euros in its airport infrastructure. The upgrade and expansion of Thessaloniki Airport was by far the largest project in the investment program, accounting for a quarter of the total investment.
After four years of intensive planning and building, the new airport – modern, smarter and now doubled in size – was delivered in February. “Our goal was to create an atmosphere and environment where the flight is transformed into an exceptional, interesting travel experience, beyond the obvious, dry process of entering the airport, going through security and travelling,” explains Theofanis Bobotis.
The modern terminal
The new terminal is the fruit of this labor. Upon entering the airport, the passenger encounters an impressive, modern construction that stands out for its simple, Doric lines and the sense of perpetual movement, which it derives from its shape and volume. The exterior of the airport is characterized by a rhombic glass curtain wall, which is especially designed to prevent the entry of sunlight while permitting visibility from the inside out. The departure gates are covered with dark, multifaceted shells, which protect passengers from adverse weather conditions. Lukas Bobotis states that the identity of the building is complemented by its curved roof, which skillfully covers the technical facilities of the airport and creates an interesting fifth aspect, which the traveler can enjoy from the air.
The challenge for Bobotis+Bobotis Architects was to combine the old and the new airport buildings, which represent two completely different eras of architectural design, in the same space.
While the new building follows the new concept, the architects sought to functionally remodel the existing one. The buildings are joined by two air bridges, which also symbolize the transition from the old to the new. For passengers, the bridges are also a part of the experience, as the first, which overlooks the grounds outside the airport, leads to the security area, while the second gradually prepares them for the trip, offering magical views of the runways.
A calming effect
The renovation and expansion have dramatically transformed the interior of the airport, which has become more modern and functional. As the architects note, every aspect of the design was passenger-centered.
“An important issue in the design of airports, to which we have also placed special emphasis, is the reduction of passenger stress, which can be caused by the successive checking of items, tickets and luggage.
“By reducing the time needed to go through controls, the stress they cause is also reduced,” the architects say. With this in mind, the new Thessaloniki Airport has double the security lanes than before, while the check-in points have increased by 45 percent and the number of departure gates has jumped from 16 to 24.
At the same time, there are a lot more restaurants and shopping stores. “The modern concept attaches great importance to the location of the various uses within the airport. Passengers should have the feeling that they are in a familiar environment, such as in a structured web of the city, where they can shop, surrounded by restaurants and bars,” the architects explain.
In Thessaloniki’s new airport, these uses are intertwined, so that no point of the airport remains one-dimensional. Instead, the passenger can buy a souvenir and very quickly find a pleasant place to enjoy a coffee, without having to walk through endless corridors.
All that’s lacking in the new structure is people. Few people have had reason to grace the terminal as the Covid-19 pandemic has restricted travel in every corner of the globe. But the new airport has donned its best and has turned its gaze to the summer, hoping that the holiday season will bring passengers who will inaugurate the brand-new gates, new shops and impressive air bridges.
This article was first published in Greek on kathimerini.gr.