Designing Airports as Transient Smart Cities

While an office building, a shopping mall, a hotel, a train station or an airport seem to serve very different purposes when looking at their primary function, under certain circumstances they can also be merged into one to meet different requirements. This is due to a change of people’s roles within short time frames or parallel activities in co-located situations.

Large airports are good examples of this blending of activities. They aim at providing a range of functions people are usually looking for in cities, but now only for a limited time period at this specific location. Airports serve as “transient spaces and hubs” providing support for “polyphasic activities”. Translating this in an overall design rationale, one can state: “designing airports is designing transient
smart cities”.

Airports are very interesting special cases of urban environments, because they show most of the relevant issues and challenges for transforming them in smart environments in a very concentrated and focussed manner. "Smart Airports" can therefore serve as test beds for
smart cities on how to exploit the potential of ambient intelligence and ubiquitous computing capabilities. A pervasive and ubiquitous communication infrastructure is combined with embedded systems, sensors, actuators, and interactive media embedded into the physical environment. Smart airports adapt features of smart urban environments and realize them in a an airport context with its special requirements.


We are applying a human-, i.e. here a primarily passenger-centered, service-oriented design based on the large body of work in Human-Computer-/ Environment- Interaction and Experience Design. This requires to design from a passenger perspective facilitating and transforming the "Passenger Experience" into a coherent, efficient, and pleasant experience feeling at home, but at the same time also exploiting the opportunity to explore a different culture due to a new context as it is provided by a foreign airport. We are convinced that airports do not have to look all alike. The challenge is now to develop a "social architectural space" which identifies the different types of spaces to be encountered by the passenger (transportation spaces, public spaces, meeting spaces, transient spaces, in-between spaces, private spaces, off-limits spaces, ...)


Norbert Streitz (2016). Opportunities and Risks of Digitalization in the Context of Smart Hybrid Cities and Airports. In: Proceedings of USEWARE 2016 - Mensch-Technik-Interaktion im Industrie 4.0 Zeitalter. 8. VDI-VDE Fachtagung. VDI-Berichte 2271. VDI Wissensforum. VDI-Verlag (pp. 5 - 14).