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.

Cologne Bonn Airport.  The first terminal was opened in 1970 and designed by the architect Paul Schneider von Esleben (PSE).
Cologne Bonn Airport The first terminal was opened in 1970 and designed by the architect Paul Schneider von Esleben (PSE). © Hendrik Bohle
Cologne Bonn Airport.  His drive-in concept: an airport with short ways. The “Starwalk” extension was planned by Helmut Jahn, as were Terminal 1 (opened in 2000) and the train station (opened 2004).
Cologne Bonn Airport His drive-in concept: an airport with short ways. The “Starwalk” extension was planned by Helmut Jahn, as were Terminal 1 (opened in 2000) and the train station (opened 2004). © Hendrik Bohle
Cologne Bonn Airport.  Paths, walls and ceilings appear light ...
Cologne Bonn Airport Paths, walls and ceilings appear light ... © Jan Dimog
Cologne Bonn Airport.  ... and luminous.
Cologne Bonn Airport ... and luminous. © Hendrik Bohle
Cologne Bonn Airport.  Open, exposed concrete that exudes no earthy, brutalist severity
Cologne Bonn Airport Open, exposed concrete that exudes no earthy, brutalist severity © Hendrik Bohle
Cologne Bonn Airport.  Symmetry ...
Cologne Bonn Airport Symmetry ... © Hendrik Bohle
Cologne Bonn Airport.  ... and lines
Cologne Bonn Airport ... and lines © Hendrik Bohle
Cologne Bonn Airport.  Material mix
Cologne Bonn Airport Material mix © Hendrik Bohle
Cologne Bonn Airport.  To the observation deck
Cologne Bonn Airport To the observation deck © Hendrik Bohle

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.

Cologne Bonn Airport.  The new observation deck was reopend in June 2012 and ...
Cologne Bonn Airport The new observation deck was reopend in June 2012 and ... © Hendrik Bohle
Cologne Bonn Airport.  ... designed together with the spotter clubs Aviation Friends Cologne / Bonn and CGN Community.
Cologne Bonn Airport ... designed together with the spotter clubs Aviation Friends Cologne / Bonn and CGN Community. © Hendrik Bohle
Cologne Bonn Airport.  The observation platforms are located at Terminal 1 between B and C, 4 floor.
Cologne Bonn Airport The observation platforms are located at Terminal 1 between B and C, 4 floor. © Hendrik Bohle
Cologne Bonn Airport.  The terrace is open daily from 06.30 to 22.00; admission is free.
Cologne Bonn Airport The terrace is open daily from 06.30 to 22.00; admission is free. © Hendrik Bohle
Cologne Bonn Airport.  Concrete and perspectives
Cologne Bonn Airport Concrete and perspectives © Jan Dimog
Cologne Bonn Airport.  Gangway design
Cologne Bonn Airport Gangway design © Jan Dimog
Cologne Bonn Airport.  The CGN can be reached directly via highways and express roads as well as with the intercity express train, suburban railways and regional express trains.
Cologne Bonn Airport The CGN can be reached directly via highways and express roads as well as with the intercity express train, suburban railways and regional express trains. © Jan Dimog
Cologne Bonn Airport.  A 20-metre deep rail station with a 156-metre long vaulted glass roof
Cologne Bonn Airport A 20-metre deep rail station with a 156-metre long vaulted glass roof © Jan Dimog

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.

"Willkommen in Bonn, Köln-Bonn!"

Von Jan Dimog Autor, Redakteur und (Foto)Journalist, veröffentlicht am .