An Article
Ralph Roberts
Roy Wilson
Katherine Skipper
Dominic Plume


The complex nature of contemporary airport design ranges far beyond catering for the arrival and departure of passengers. 

Airports are a gateway to commerce and leisure – and often a flagship of national identity. Both airport owners and users require a blueprint which can be implemented while maintaining operational capacity and one that is, of necessity, future proofed for decades.

With more than 60 years of crafting architectural experiences, Warren and Mahoney has built up a depth of expertise from master planning and strategy, to customer experience, through conceptual and developed design, to interior fit-out and project management. The practice has a thorough understanding of, and vision for, aviation architecture, both at a regional level (through projects at Marlborough and Invercargill airports) and on a national scale in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.


The architecture of airports is, of necessity, subject to global regulation. IATA is the international body that identifies standards of design specific to airport development, and issues such as aviation security (AVSEC) are ever evolving – so the importance of current experience becomes clear.  Airport design and development is challenged by the trend towards increased and changing airline activity and passenger growth.  Vision and leadership in the planning and design of airports helps align these modern transport standards and enhanced passenger amenities with a region’s growth needs.

The design and delivery of aviation projects presents unique challenges. Planning the building works requires careful staging to maintain the airport’s intense operational demands while ensuring public health and safety.


During the construction phase, there’s an even greater challenge to create safe environments for passengers and workers on the site. Collaboration and understanding between the design and build teams is imperative when working in an environment close to 400-tonne weight of an aeroplane. 

Airport terminal design is primarily driven by the size and configuration of the land area alongside an airline’s requirements for wide-ranging aircraft type and size to land, load and depart. The configuration of aircraft parking area ‘hard stands’ and air-bridge gates defines ‘passenger lounge pier’ positions. This influences the building’s planning needs for passenger arrival, check in, baggage handling, retail, food and beverage - all part of the wider realm of passenger experience.

Civil aviation rules further impact design considerations. The events of 9/11 lead to fundamental changes in the way arriving and departing travellers mingle (or rather, as a consequence of this, don’t) and this shift has put an end to the days of the ‘big shed’ model.

To connect the traveller with the destination, a balance needs to be struck between the local architectural language and more globally recognised perspectives.

Internationally, airports act as a country’s ‘gateway’ and showcase business, innovation, technology, prosperity, all via architectural prowess. Expressing these ideas requires understanding of context and cultures. To connect the traveller with the destination, a balance needs to be struck between the local architectural language and more globally recognised perspectives. Warren and Mahoney approach this with creative and innovative design solutions founded on the airport’s strategic vision. Dwell times are often short in airport spaces so bold, assertive design moves - both in form and materiality - can reflect our history and culture in a modern, abstract way.

Wellington Airport embraced the opportunity to find architectural expression in the city’s lively culture and stunning coastal topography. The copper-clad ‘Rock’ creates a memorable and unique arrival experience for overseas visitors, starting from their first view from the seat of the plane and continuing to the expressive interior. The success of this ambition has informed other aspects of their new developments and is now finding form in the extended Southern Terminal, which showcases fantastic local craftsmanship and the use of sustainable timbers.


In recognising the airport as the first experience of the capital city for both domestic and overseas visitors, the architectural emphasis was on representing ‘the best of Wellington’. When extending the main domestic terminal, the form of the existing building was simply extruded vertically to increase the height of the internal space. This increased the flexibility of passenger lounges and retail spaces to adapt to future needs. Laminated locally produced timber ‘x-frames’ innovatively replace a traditional column-and-bracing solution and create the building’s identity in an organic rather than applied fashion. This unique identifier is the result of collaborating with Horowhenua craftspeople to build samples and develop early ideas into the curvaceous glulam cross frames.

Clear navigation is critical to successful airport functioning, and is assisted by simple spatial planning and open sight lines. Wellington and Blenheim airports are good examples of a logical and comfortable layout that makes moving from one are to another intuitive. Terminal buildings connect to the outdoor apron easily and customers can visually reference every aspect of the journey - from the tarmac to the shops.



While international gateways such as Auckland Airport present an aspirational face to the arriving world, smaller airports have a particular charm. At Blenheim Airport, Warren and Mahoney doubled the size of the waiting area and reconfigured the ticketing area to deal with electronic processing. While the baggage zone was upgraded to a covered space, luggage is still transported by a trolley for passengers to pick up

Led by Heathrow in the late 90s, airports have been re-inventing themselves as ‘destinational’ shopping centres that bisect important transport routes. Designing the customer experience is the starting point of our approach to major transport master planning. By understanding customer flows and behaviours, and mapping the multiple journeys of travellers, we create strategies that maximise their ‘Return on Experience’ which in turn provides airport owners and operators a future-proofed return on their own architectural investment.


01: The Rock, Wellington Airport
02 + 03: Wellington International Airport South Terminal Expansion 
04: The Rock, Wellington Airport
05: Christchurch Airport
06: Blenheim Aiport Extension

This site does not display as intended on some browsers like Internet Explorer 6. Please update your browser.