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Airport Park, Schiphol - 2011

Airport Park, Schiphol

In early May 2011, the Schiphol Airport Park was opened – a green park-like waiting area with its own roof garden. Working closely together with Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, designer Maurice Mentjens elaborated the design and details of the city park concept, resulting in a landscape ideally suited to sitting and relaxing in various green micro-environments.

Schiphol is one of the very few airports in the world where waiting can actually be an enjoyable experience. Instead of extremely dull waiting areas or endless shopping malls, travellers can spend their transit time in different waiting areas designed in line with various inspiring theme concepts. After all, travellers generally spend quite a few hours at airports, so why not allow them to feel relaxed and at home, regardless of their specific cultural background? Maryan Brouwer, concept developer at Schiphol, created a new theme concept for welcoming travellers that reflects the current focus on the environment, namely the park concept. For many people, “green” symbolises more abstract concepts such as environmental awareness and sustainability, both of which are aspects that Schiphol Airport is working hard to promote but that are often not readily visible.

City park

Mentjens has a reputation as a “conceptual and imaginative designer” – a designer who makes use of symbols, associations and visual references. “Precisely the right person for transforming the city park concept into a concrete and enjoyable experience for travellers,” is what they thought at Schiphol. Working closely together with Maryan Brouwer, the details were then worked out for the interior space and associated roof garden. The point of departure for the new theme concept was the idea of the “city park,” which was originally introduced in the late 19th and early 20th century and became popular all over the world as an expression of socially responsible and innovative thinking. These city parks were areas of natural beauty in an urban setting, explicitly intended to give everyone – young and old, rich and poor alike – an opportunity to relax and take a stroll in an outdoor setting. In the Netherlands, Amsterdam’s Vondel Park is, even today, a good example of this concept. Originally designed in the English landscape style, it provides a romantic and park-like setting offering visitors constantly changing and often surprising views and backdrops. This is commonly realised with the help of large and preferably sloping grassy areas, surrounded by groups of trees, behind which new vistas are constantly unfolding themselves to the viewer. A comparable spatial layout has been realised in the Airport Park. The foundation for the design is a floor made of oak strips that have been given a green colour in some places. This floor supports various objects, positioned randomly at first sight, which delineate the various passageways and draw the eye of the viewer further towards the open area and the outdoor roof garden. The visual effect is further reinforced by an incremental series of increasing levels: raised platforms covered with imitation turf, a picnic island decorated with the familiar red and white check pattern used for chip bags and tablecloths, plant containers surrounded by round benches, and a meandering landscape bench.

Mother tree

Of course, the functional complexity of an airport and the relatively short stay involved do not really allow for the Airport Park to serve as an oasis of tranquillity. Every area visited and used intensively by travellers must also serve to help them find their way around easily and quickly. Here, this functionality is integrated into the floor design. Five large circles in various tints of green indicate the different functional areas: café/restaurant, shops, KPN Internet Zone, KLM lounge and the alcoves next to the vacant space overlooking the entrance near Lounge 1. Pathways of varnished parquet flooring wind their way between the green areas. A striking aspect of the design is a series of vertical objects which give the Airport Park a sheltered aspect, resembling trees which, undeterred by the ceiling, seem to be growing ever upwards. The trunks are real, but the crowns of the trees are – naturally – made of artificial leaves. As is the custom in historic parks, there is also a “mother tree” in the centre, the large trunk of a 130-year-old beech tree. The wall design is based on the trompe l’oeuil principle, whereby the illusion is created that the viewer is looking at a relatively far-off panorama. The wall elements consist of large photographic reproductions of famous parks all over the world (with a special lighting effect), giving the Airport Park quite an international flavour. So travellers passing through can feel as if they’re walking through the Vondel Park or New York’s Central Park, depending upon their fancy – “home away from home.”

Virtual butterflies

As was the case in city parks of old, kiosks are also present with walls that open in the daytime and are filled with typical park merchandise such as magazines, newspapers, flowers and souvenirs. The kitchen of the Park Café, with its beams piled one on top of the other, is reminiscent of a log cabin, or rather an artist’s version with various types of wood, or perhaps of a folly, a structure often found in public spaces, such as the Parc de la Villette in Paris. Much of the furniture was specially designed for the Airport Park, including the rounded elements serving as seats and plant containers, the large landscape bench, the tree-trunk seat, and the slatted benches. The picnic bench in the Park Café is a tailor-made item, as are the long wooden bench along the wall and all the tables, the alcoves next to the void, and the ivy chairs on the outdoor terrace. The other objects are from internationally well-known designers: the Vitra Vegetal branch chairs and the wooden stools by Tom Dixon in the Park Café, the Vitra Amoebe, Relay chairs by Artifort and beanbag seats by Zanotta in the sitting area, the picnic bench (Cassecroute) and the Jardin de Luxembourg chairs on the terrace (Fermob). In order to further reinforce the park-like concept, virtual butterflies fly around above the picnic island and in the alcoves, presenting a striking and attractive image when viewed from Lounge 1. These butterflies also interact with the visitors, as they are controlled by sensors and projected via beamers. The result is a playful atmosphere, complemented by other ‘mixed reality’ elements in the background such as animal and park sounds. Near the large field of grass, a scent-making device completes the illusion of being in an outdoor park: instead of petrol fumes, visitors inhale the delicious scent of freshly mown grass…

Sustainable

A special aspect of this Airport Park is the integration of sustainable materials and design solutions. Solar tubes transport daylight into the interior at various sites, and practically the entire area is fitted with LED lighting. The Relay chairs have been recycled and upholstered anew with green leather. Bicycles are also present which passengers can use to generate energy for recharging their mobile phone or laptop and perhaps generate some new sporting insights…

photography
Arjen Schmitz

Schiphol (fullscreen)