UK. London City Airport has begun a £500 million development that aims to transform the customer experience by 2022, with interior design and planning for the commercial areas by London-based The Design Solution.

The project is currently at a detailed design stage, with opportunities for retail, dining and other services to follow. The development will accommodate a further two million passengers a year, from 4.8 million in 2018 and a projected high of 5 million in 2019. The existing terminal was built in 1987 to accommodate just 1 million passengers.

Vision of the future: How the new airport entrance will look to travellers from 2022.

According to the airport company, the new terminal design “will reflect 21st century London, supported by new shops, restaurants, bars and experiences which are synonymous with the capital, showcasing the best of the city”.

The City Airport Development Programme began in 2017 and includes the new terminal facilities, eight new aircraft stands and a parallel taxiway, next to the runway. Construction is underway, and terminal facilities are being built both to the east and west of the current building.

The new facility will provide four times the size of floor space compared to the current facility, which is 17,000sq m. It will also be reconfigured and modernised. Combined, London City Airport’s terminal from 2022 will cover a total area of 68,000sq m.

The Design Solution says that innovative digital elements are pivotal to the interior design. Large format digital screens will share stories from the city, while furniture and lighting from London designers will add personality and a premium touch to the lounges, it says.

Ahead of the project’s completion, the airport will begin testing a new digital air traffic control tower, a global first for an airport of its scale, ahead of its introduction in 2020. New routes to Munich, Budapest, Vilnius, Warsaw, Newcastle and Split also launch in 2019, adding to the airport’s growing destination network.

“The design is also built around storytelling. The gate lounges, for example, will express individual personalities that are themed to celebrate different aspects of modern London.”

In this interview, The Design Solution Design Director Kevin Patience shares the story of commercial planning to date from this fast-growing location on the east London riverside.

At £500 million this is clearly a transformative project for London City Airport. What is The Design Solution’s role in the development?

Kevin Patience: We were actually appointed in a dual role, providing the planning for the commercial areas and also the interior design across the whole airport, including the new check-in zone, security, departures lounge, retail, baggage claim, arrivals area and gate lounges. That holistic role is obviously challenging but it also opens up wonderful opportunities to design something out of the ordinary.

I think it’s an especially exciting project for two additional reasons. First, there is the stunning location, right on the banks of the Thames and just six miles from St Paul’s Cathedral. Secondly, the scale and creative ambition of the airport’s management; they are fully determined to create a unique and memorable experience for the passenger.” 

What is the thinking behind the design?

The central challenge for us was to create an original concept that celebrated 21st-century London and the airport’s crucial role in the city’s economy. We did this by expressing an outstanding and distinctive passenger experience blended with a Sense of Place that is unique to London City.

The design concept is underpinned by a foundation of operational efficiency throughout the passenger journey, such as clear wayfinding, comfortable spaces and seating, as well as strong use of natural and man-made light.

But, of course, today’s passenger wants so much more than that. We wanted to complement that strong operational effectiveness with a unique expression of the airport’s personality.

F&B and retail planning is still at a very early stage so there are no details to share yet. But sharing that same spirit of innovation and ambition across the development, it is anticipated that it will [feature] outlets synonymous with contemporary London to create an experience that reflects life in the capital.

The Design Solution says: “Large, white, curving ceiling planes with defined perimeter black channels create a series of fluid lines within key spaces, complemented by small-scale ‘lily pad’ ceiling panels that create a soft-lined ceiling to the arrivals hall, immigration and transit areas.”

How is the design vision expressed across the space?

The principal inspiration for the interior design scheme was the River Thames. After all, its riverside location is a defining characteristic for the airport and for thousands of years the river has been a key path for travellers, so we saw a river journey as the flowing heartbeat of our design.

For example, the river’s fluidity and flow inspires the terminal’s soft curving and the colour palette was stimulated by the tones of the river and its bridges, using muted blues, greens and greys.

Crucially, the design is also built around storytelling. The gate lounges, for example, will express individual personalities that are themed to celebrate different aspects of modern London.

The city’s stories are conveyed through a blend of modern art installations, music, furniture and lighting as well as the changing visuals on the numerous ‘digital walls’. These offer especially great versatility of use, such as in opportunities to share information and entertain the passenger.

I think the design theme successfully blends the modern personality of London City with contemporary stories of London as the most vibrant, modern and multi-cultural capital and the airport’s unique position on the Thames. The core element is that we want the traveller to enjoy a fantastic guest experience that also expresses the very best of modern London, the world’s greatest city.

A view of the departures lounge: Illuminated directional light lines flow across the walls, with waved timber on the perimeter and a series of waved blades in the ceilings.

What is the most memorable element of the design?

One of my favourite moments in the guest experience is the fact that when international arrivals passengers proceed through the Immigration and Baggage areas they are almost at eye-level with the river. They have fantastic views along the corridor onto the water, giving them an unforgettable, ever-changing ‘first sight’ of London.

The Design Solution says: “Light features, art installations, graphic wall panels and curated walls in the gate lounges enhance the Sense of Place and provide engaging experiences for passengers. London’s creative energy and diversity in art, culture, fashion, sport, film and music can be celebrated across the space. Style will be matched with substance, with more space, better facilities, smarter airport experiences and enhanced choice for passengers.”

Does the design at London City offer lessons for other airports?

I think new projects at any airport should be aiming to push standards ever higher. For every airport, success is about the quality of the whole customer experience across every step of the journey. That holistic experience is what drives customer service satisfaction and is also hugely influential on their propensity to spend.

If you can deliver something extraordinary right from their first steps and engage with them throughout the airport journey, then you have the foundation for a powerful relationship with your customers.

I’m delighted that the design process can contribute so much to that ambition and I’m certain that the London City Airport experience in 2022 will set a new standard not only in London but also for the global airport industry.