Architect: Modern Airports Are Backbone of City Revival

Luis Vidal, part of design team for PIT’s new terminal, says urban planning at ‘critical juncture’

By Alyson Walls

Published November 9, 2019

Read Time: 3 mins


From the tiniest particles visible under a microscope to the vast outer reaches of the universe, the concepts of compression and expansion have always fascinated architect Luis Vidal.

On his first visit to Pittsburgh, Vidal was “compressed” into the Fort Pitt Tunnel and then treated to the famed expansive view of the city, rolling hills, rivers and bridges on the other side.

In that moment, he began forming the concept design for Pittsburgh International Airport’s modern new terminal.

Vidal, founder of Madrid-based Luis Vidal + Architects, has completed more than 30 airport designs, including the award-winning Terminal 2 at Heathrow International Airport.

In July 2018, Vidal, along with joint venture architectural and engineering firms Gensler and HDR, was selected to design the new terminal, which will consolidate PIT’s landside and airside operations into one facility adjacent to the current Airside Terminal.

In a recent lecture to an architectural design studio class at Carnegie Mellon University, the famed Spanish architect shared his unique inspiration and vision for the future design of cities and airports, including Pittsburgh’s.

Vidal was a great choice to lead Pittsburgh’s airport modernization, said Hal Hayes, studio professor at CMU’s School of Architecture and principal of h3 Architecture in New York.

“I think it promises to be a partnership that will give us an impressive front door for the region and a civic monument that we all can be proud of,” he said.

This semester, Hayes focused his studio course on airport design. He was already familiar with Vidal’s work at Heathrow and has been following the progress on PIT’s new terminal.

“(Vidal) is a design-oriented architect that has real competency in the typology of airport terminals, and so it was an excellent opportunity for him to come in and work with the students in this capacity and offer his expertise,” Hayes said.

In his lecture, Vidal talked about the growing challenges facing cities. As the world’s population increases and resources decrease, urban planning is at a critical juncture, he said.

“As architects and future architects, our duty to society is bigger than ever,” he told the students. “We need to adapt the increasing pressures of our land with responsible design.”

When designing housing and public spaces, cities of the future must consider four factors, he said: competition, coexistence, cooperation and connection.

“We need a competent mix of uses … we need to give people better access to public spaces,” he said. “Everybody is entitled to see a tree through the window of their homes or to walk to a park.

“A well-integrated airport can be the backbone of a city, the one that allows all inhabitants to co-exist, cooperate and connect.”

Paul Hoback, chief development officer for the Allegheny County Airport Authority, praised Vidal’s vision. “Our number one goal is to have an airport that reflects and serves Pittsburgh and is ready to respond to the challenges of the future,” he said.

A unique sense of place, cutting-edge technology and services, local concessions, inspirational artwork and other amenities are among the guiding concepts for designing Pittsburgh’s new terminal to improve the passenger experience.

Because technology changes so rapidly, Vidal stresses that airports and other buildings must be designed with flexibility in mind – a principle that’s critical for the modernized Pittsburgh International.

He predicted that technological advancements may lead to the eventual blurring of the line between pre-security and post-security areas in airports.

“Airports will recognize us when we walk in and all of our devices will be connected to the ‘Internet of Things,’” he said. “So you will be able to walk down a corridor with your shoes, coat, computer and phone without removing anything.”

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