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Denver Art Museum exhibits the innovative airports of Fentress Architects
Incheon International Airport Passenger Terminal, Seoul, South Korea, 1993-2001. Photograph of airside. Photograph © Paul Dingman / Architectural drawing © Fentress Architects.

DENVER, CO.- An exhibition that will change how travelers view airports and their design opened at the Denver Art Museum. Now Boarding: Fentress Airports + The Architecture of Flight takes visitors on a journey through the history of airports aided by film, digital art, animation, models, drawings, photographs and full-scale architectural elements. The exhibition will be on view in the museum’s Gallagher Family Gallery through October 7, 2012.

Visitors travel through six airports designed by Denver-based Fentress architects: Denver International Airport, Incheon International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Mineta San Jose International Airport, Raleigh-Durham International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. In each section, visitors encounter sketches, renderings, photographs and large models of these technologically advanced public spaces.

“We spend our days surrounded by design, from the buildings we work in to the streets we drive on. Rarely do we stop to consider not only the creativity and effort that goes into these structures, but also their cultural and sometimes even political significance,” said curator Donald Albrecht. “Exhibiting the full spectrum of the design process allows visitors a rare opportunity to see inside the inspired minds that have produced these groundbreaking designs.”

In the past 30 years, Fentress Architects has created some of the world’s most recognizable airport terminals, winning numerous awards for innovative designs that aided airports in evolving from people processing facilities to dynamic public spaces. Fentress was on the forefront of the new era of airport design in the ’90s and is helping shape the airport of the future.

“The exhibition showcases a local talent that has had an impact on airport design all over the world,” said Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the Denver Art Museum. “Now Boarding takes a look at the radical transformation of airport design and allows visitors to contemplate their role in this change.”

Designed to fit their surroundings, Fentress airports feature construction elements inspired by the culture and environment of the locales they serve. Arching over the prairie, Denver International Airport’s tensile-structure roof mirrors the nearby Rocky Mountains while Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s central terminal pays homage to the iconic Pike Place Market.

Not just focused on aesthetics, Fentress airports shape the passenger experience, from “curbside to airside.” Completed in 2001, Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea exemplifies an enhanced traveler experience and the emerging “airport city of the future” concept—offering retail, hospitality, culture and time-critical services.

Throughout Now Boarding, visitors see how airport design has been shaped by world events, from the “Heroic” era of the early 20th century to the “democratic” era of the 1970s and ’80s. The final leg of the journey acquaints visitors with the airport of the future. This interactive section allows visitors to view expert projections of the next phase in airport evolution and add their own thoughts before disembarking the tour.

Called “flying fields” in the early days of air travel, most airports were little more than grassy strips. By the late 1950s, airport design advanced to accommodate the larger number of people who could afford to fly. A romantic architectural style accommodated the airport construction boom of the post-World War II era, mirroring the mystique of air travel. Passengers embraced the air travel experience, dressing in their finest clothing and dining at airport restaurants.

The love affair faded as airports transformed into “people processors” from the 1970s to the mid-1980s. Increased regulation and security concerns left airports as places people wanted to get through, rather than spend time in. Options for dining, shopping, entertainment or relaxation began to dwindle. In the last few decades, airport design has been revitalized with beautiful new terminals featuring high-end amenities aimed at making passenger’s travel more enjoyable.

Illustrating this transformation is Gate Change: An Animated History of Air Travel, a multimedia installation by New York-based artist Ben Rubin featuring visual projections and sound that will tell the story of air travel. Data-driven graphics and documentary and fiction film footage will engage visitors in the history and current condition of airports.

Visitors will also have the unique opportunity to see things from a passenger aircraft’s point of view through Getaway, a video installation by Marco Brambilla that will take viewers soaring through the sky before touching down on the main runway at Los Angeles’s LAX airport.

Now Boarding is curated by Donald Albrecht in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum. Peter Christensen served as the exhibition’s assistant curator with Darrin Alfred, Associate Curator of Architecture, Design and Graphics at the Denver Art Museum.

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