Tag Archives: Airport terminal

Does Design Matter? A Terminal Walk

A week or so ago Bart over at the #clmooc shared this blog post about classroom design and it’s impact on teaching and learning.  Yesterday I spent the day traveling from New York back home to San Diego and in the process spent time in three airport terminals.

Since I had a layover at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, I took the opportunity to take a short learning walk to give myself the opportunity to think about my experience through the photographs I took.

Airports are funny places.  Institutional, highly regulated, and not terribly comfortable.  The food is pricy—and not usually all that good, the restrooms are not as strategic as we would wish, and there are never enough plugs to recharge those electronics that are so necessary these days.  And yet, as travelers we spend significant time in these places.

As I walked through the terminal I noticed the usual features—the Starbucks, the strategically placed trashcans, and the lettered and numbered gates.

And then I looked up.  I noticed the green glass (or plastic or Plexiglas) on the ceiling.  In some places the same design was yellow and others more of a tan color.


Down the main corridor looking up meant seeing flags from countries all over the work—and a world sculpture all under the latticed ceiling that lets natural light into the terminal.


I saw plenty of vehicles of the golf cart variety.  Some were moving with flashing lights and beeping noises as they transported travelers who needed some extra help getting from gate to gate.  I also found a place where three vehicles were parked…and loved watching the little boy “driving” the one with the awning.


The chairs designated for those with physical handicaps were red in this terminal.  I did notice right away that they were different from the other chairs.


I also noticed some new, more unusual design features.  There were the walls of plants on either side of a bank of chairs facing the windows.  A closer look revealed that they hold potted plants arranged to fill both sides and the top so it looked much like a shrub.  I also saw the interactive big screen game…challenging those who pass by to try to beat the latest fastest time.

plant wall


These last two features remind me a bit of a hamster cage with the wheel for exercise or a fish bowl with the castle to make the glass bowl seem like an undersea world.  They are still containers meant to keep the pets both healthy and restricted, but probably serve the pet owner more than the animal they hold.  The plant wall and the interactive game don’t change the terminal experience, people are still contained inside the terminal building–and often experience boredom associated with waiting and waiting…

These props seem almost like bean bags in the classroom for reading.  They make things a bit more comfortable, but don’t fundamentally change the experience of the space.  Bart talked about the workbenches he wanted for his classroom–to shift the experience for learners from recipients of knowledge to makers as learners.

I’m thinking about the ways the design of spaces impact our actions, our feelings, our experiences.  What are the implications for classrooms?  For airport terminals?  For living and learning?