Offering a first place prize of $10,000, the Denver-based Fentress Architects has announced its annual Global Challenge, an international design competition challenging young and student architects to imagine the look, functionality, and purpose of airport terminals in the year 2075.
Part of the competition challenge, according to a Fentress Architects’ press release, tasks respondents with taking into consideration “local context, technological trends, project feasibility and passenger experience.”
That the internationally known architecture firm - with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, London, and Shanghai - is the sponsor for what will be the seventh year the competition has been held surprises no one.
Launched in 1980, Fentress, which has taken on more than $42 billion in architecture projects worldwide, has emerged as a premiere public space design firm, with a particular emphasis on airports.
In November, firm founder Curtis Fentress, speaking during an industry forum at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles, noted that the almost inevitable and typical big box airport passenger facilities seen heretofore around the world were designed for efficiency.
Unfortunately, said Fentress, that’s been an “efficiency for the airplane - not so much efficiency and kindness for the passengers, necessarily.”
In response, Fentress has made a career out of creatively expanding concepts of what a modern terminal should be, with perhaps the Denver International Airport being the most stunning example of his firm’s vision.
Consistently top-rated by the American Institute of Architecture, the DIA’s design, said Fentress at the Los Angeles meeting, “made a statement when it was built that created something different about airports, saying it could be light and airy and fluffy and create a sense of place, a relationship to its environment.”
The DIA project, according to architectural historian Peter Christensen in the book Now Boarding: Fentress Airports +the Architecture of Flight, “rose to the occasion of rendering the largest international airport in the United States as one with an effortless light touch that delaminated not only the barriers from ‘curbside to airside,’ but also from the ground to sky.”
According to a Fentress Architects spokesperson, the firm, under the founder’s guidance, “passionately pursues the creation of iconic public architecture.”
And that passion has inspired such projects as the Orlando International Airport’s South Terminal C, which is slated for completion in 2020, and according to the firm’s spokesperson, embodies “approaches inspired by the local character and creating a unique sense of place.”
A protégé of legendary modernist architect I.M. Pei, Fentress has frequently stated that his mission as an architect is to transform the insulating and enclosing feel of public buildings into something more open and humanistic.
“Sometimes, with flight delays and things that happen, the experience can feel quite gruesome,” Fentress said of the all-too-typical passenger experience in airports everywhere.
Speaking with reporter Curtis Tate, Fentress added: “What we as architects try to do is make the experience as pleasant as possible.”
Beyond airports, Fentress Architects have left its mark on any number of civic and court buildings, museums, and convention centers, prompting Ray Mark Rinaldi of the Denver Post to remark that each of the firm’s projects has been a “big, bold statement rendered in rock, steel, and glass, and fortified to last the ages.”
Rinaldo went on to make a prediction: half a century from now, Denver may or may not be known as the home of Governor John Hickenlooper or football great John Elway, but “the things that Curt Fentress dreamed up will still be standing, not history but a vital part of everyday life.”
The firm is currently undertaking the renovation design of the Denver Art Museum’s North Museum, which is slated for completion in 2021, and earlier this year was given the job of designing the innovative rooftop expansion of the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver.
While Fentress Architects has left its impact on locales around the globe, it remains a quintessentially Colorado company, its work partly inspired by the thriving economy of the Mile High State.
In fact, the state’s growth, said the firm spokesperson, “emphasizes the importance of designing flexible architecture to prepare for future expansions,” adding that Fentress’ design philosophy will continue to focus on a “timeless desire based in logic, beauty, and humanism that maximizes flexibility, efficiency and adaptability for the future.”
By Garry Boulard
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