THE LINK to #urbanana: Cologne Bonn Airport: With fanfares and 007 – Architektur in Köln
Köln. Deutschland. Advertisement. In the last few months, we have explored sacred buildings made of concrete, city harbours of glass and steel, and the new industrial culture of the twenty-first century. These architecture stories ought to inspire you to make your own trip. By train, by car, by bicycle – and by air. With the Cologne Bonn Airport, architects Paul Schneider von Esleben and Helmut Jahn created a complex that smoothly interfaces with the railways and individual traffic: the first drive-in airport in the world.
Not only can architecture look good, it can sound good, too. The Cologne Bonn Airport (CGN) has united corporate architecture and corporate acoustics in a pleasant and confidence-inspiring way that makes the airport immediately aurally recognisable. The voice of James Bond (the German version, Frank Glaubrecht dubbing for Pierce Brosnan) is your sound-companion in the airport, coupled with a jingle that you just have to love, so softly does it snuggle into your ears. The sound has something playful about it that fits with the airport’s slogan: “so simple.” Architecture that’s clear and easy, with an unmistakeable airport fanfare.
Anyone familiar with the vast, XXL airports in other parts of the world will enjoy a sense of clarity here, where the short routes are connected in a structure that’s legible for all travellers. CGN is a complex out of time that, purely because of its old-fashioned arrangement, falls out of today’s usual mega-giga-framework. It is almost a Tegel-isation of flight. Indeed, the Berlin airport Tegel (TXL), completed in 1974 by Gerkan, Marg und Partner (gmp), resembles the CGN terminal, which was opened in 1970 by Paul Schneider von Esleben (PSE). Both installations are exemplary of the architecture of the 1960s and 1970s, and of the concept of the world’s first drive-in airports, which PSE developed together with Lufthansa. Even today, passengers can drive to the terminals directly from the highway. The airport is framed by the A 3 and A 59 highways, and there is a seamless transition from the feeder road L 84 into the area. The connection between car and airplane was meant to be as short as possible, and has remained so ever since. To that end, PSE planned a 500-metre long, terraced reception building that sits enthroned between two star-shaped wings docked on either side. Access routes connect the buildings, with parking lots in between. In the interior: open, exposed concrete that exudes no earthy, brutalist severity, despite its date of origin. On the contrary, paths, walls and ceilings appear light and luminous through its openings and geometric forms.
Three decades later, the terminals were also connected with the railway network of the Deutsche Bahn. For this, Murphy Jahn Architects (along with Schüßler-Plan Ingenieurgesellschaft mbH) designed a 20-metre deep rail station with a 156-metre long vaulted glass roof. From the glass station, it only takes a few minutes to get to the check-in counters. The PSE airport has indeed remained true to its short-distance DNA. Schneider von Esleben was not very happy with the extension, though, especially with the barrel-roofed hall in front of the old main building (likewise designed by Jahn)—so much so that he sued the operating company of the airport for damages due to copyright violations. That situation did not detract, however, from the exemplary transit connections and the appropriate extension of the drive-in idea. The corporate architecture of the airport was very fitting for the zeitgeist of the 21st century: more shopping, more steel and more glass. The airport is beloved. This fact also has to do with its rank as a low-cost hub in Germany, one which was been repeatedly voted the best regional airport in Europe. If CGN were larger, and had more than its average 10–12 million passengers a year, there would definitely be friction with the state capital. Düsseldorf would be happy to have a large, international business airport. But the small Cologne Bonn Airport is more manageable. And more audible.