The best new airports in the world right now are in Beijing, where Norman Foster’s Terminal 3 has just opened, and on the outskirts of Madrid, where Terminal 4 at Barajas, designed by Richard Rogers Partnership, has been in operation since 2006. Foster has achieved what no other architect has been able to: he has rethought the airport from scratch and made it work. Foster has done for airports what the architects Reed & Stem did for train stations with their design for Grand Central, a building whose greatest achievement is not its sumptuous main concourse but its orchestration of an intricate web of people, trains, taxis, and passing automobiles into a system that feels straightforward and logical, as if the building itself were guiding you from the entrance to your train. Foster, likewise, has established a pattern so clear that your natural instinct to walk straight ahead from the front door takes you where you need to go. The sheer legibility of the place would be achievement enough, given its size. Foster’s office claims it is the largest building in the world: it has a hundred and twenty-six aircraft stands, and it had to include separate sections, with their own security stations and travel-document-control areas, for domestic and international travel; a train station for a new rapid-transit line to downtown Beijing; an array of luxury shops; and even a Burger King. Even more remarkable than this organizational feat, however, is the fact that Terminal 3 is also an aesthetically exhilarating place to be.
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