written by:
May 13, 2009
Originally published in Think Smaller

Effective airport designs are often underappreciated, as it is easy to take them for granted when things go smoothly. You are comfortable, you find what you need, and you are not bored out of your skull. The best airports get the small things right in a big way.

Courtesy of 
Tim Griffith/SOM
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San Francisco International, exterior
San Francisco International, exterior
Courtesy of 
Timothy Hursley/SOM
2 / 3
San Francisco International, interior
San Francisco International, interior
3 / 3
changi aiport singapore interior
Image courtesy of Tim Griffith/SOM.

Best International: 
Changi Airport, Singapore

Splashier airports attract aerial photographers in droves, but Changi makes no such grand architectural statement. Instead, it woos the common traveler who may be stuck here for a few hours. It is not a hermetically sealed purgatory, thanks to a straightforward design that incorporates open-air spaces, including rooftop terraces and an out-
door swimming pool. Its atrium-like 
terminals are lush with indoor tropical 
gardens that exhibit botanical thought-
fulness. Admittedly, the man-made 
waterfall does approach Las Vegas standards of excess—–if you can build Paris in the desert, why not put a jungle in an airport? Ultimately, however, the vines, tasteful wood trim, and 
warm tones help offset the coldness commonly found in international 
hubs. A 24-hour cinema, spa, showers, children’s play areas, and free Internet service provide the means to kill 
time or freshen up before the next 
leg of your trip.

Best in the United States: 
San Francisco International Terminal

SFO makes a big impression on those approaching by car or aboard the airport’s nifty AirTrains. The terminal elevates expectations with its sweeping, winglike roof and custom lettering oozing cosmopolitan style. The feeling doesn’t dissipate indoors, either. The concourse is a light and airy space—–
if a bit oversized for current traffic levels—–that hums quietly and instills confidence and calm in the traveler. International food vendors afford 
nontravelers quality good-bye time; security checks operate smoothly; 
and there are no pretzel-like corridors to get lost in. Waylaid travelers can busy themselves with an aquarium, 
an aviation museum, thoughtful art and culture exhibits, spa treatments, quality restaurants, and wireless Inter
net. Convenient metro rail services connect the terminal to the city.

San Francisco International, exterior
San Francisco International, exterior Image courtesy of Timothy Hursley/SOM.
San Francisco International, interior
San Francisco International, interior

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