The evolution of airports

I’m taking a little break here from all-Anglican-intrigue-all-the-time. Frankly, it’s a bit wearying. So if you want to know more about the latest eyebrow twitch of the Archbishop of Canterbury, move along to the next post. No doubt, I’ll have another one ready soon.

Anyway, this doesn’t have an overt connection to church matters. Slate has posted “The history and future of airport design.” It’s a quick visual tour through a bit of the history of airport terminal design. I love airports, love architecture, and love history. So this is perfect!

Actually, it might have a bit to do with church after all. Go have a look at the tour of airport design and then come back here. Welcome back! Now go look at a photo of the inside of the church in which you worship. Welcome back! I’m betting that for most of you, the inside of the church looks more like it did before the birth of aviation than it differs from that time. I’m betting that while airports have been reinvented, and while our notion of church and culture has been rethought, our notion of how we use our church buildings has remained static. If your church building isn’t quite that old, I’m willing to bet that the design vocabulary is at least that old.

I know not everyone loves Richard Giles, but I think he has some good points in Repitching the Tent. It’s long past time for us to think about the ways we use our worship spaces and about what we put in them.

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3 Responses

  1. Kevin says:

    Thanks for posting this Scott. I’m also a big fan of architecture, history and churches – (less so of flying). It was fascinating to follow the current of airport architecture through the high modernism of art deco and Saarinen in the essay. I think it certainly reflected the idea that aviation was the “in thing” and modern/cosmopolitan. Current trends probably reflect a rethinking of that – flying is annoying, unpleasant and a hassle and it’s best to get from the curb to the gate with the least amount of annoyance as possible. Probably Richard Rogers ‘high tech’ strain of post-modernism is better suited to that the deconstructivism of Hadid or Gehry. (I guess the last thing you want to be reminded of when you board a plane is the disconnection of spaces.)

    I’m probably a bigger fan of Richard Giles than a lot of people simply because he does reject that earlier modernism. Form may follow function, but part of the function is to have a lot of “cool stuff” in churches!:) I haven’t been to the Philadelphia Cathedral, but it does look to be both simple and honest as well as visually rich.

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    Glad you liked the essay. I’m right with you about the need to prioritize function in airport design these days.

    I love Gehry, but a building that looks like a plane crash is definitely a bad move.

    Sorry I missed meeting you in CA in June. Maybe another time…


  3. Mary W. Cox says:


    This all reminds me of a presentation by Charles Fulton at a conference several years ago, in which he compared the interior arrangement of most of our churches with the interior of an airplane, and went on to talk about someone making a ritualized presentation up front, then turning down the lights and discouraging people from moving around or conversing. The parallels were amusing–and unsettling.

    I wrote a poem inspired by this:


    Churches and airplanes—resemblance runs deep:
    We’re lined up in rows
    and inclined to repose,
    for they’ve turned down the lights
    to prepare us for sleep.

    To some destination we’re headed (with prayer),
    as we heavenward climb
    for arrival on time,
    disembarking in haste
    to inquire, “Are we there?”

    (Mary W. Cox, May 2004)


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