Design Travel explores the interplay between design and travel. It might be a new hotel for business travellers, an airline collaborating with a world-renowned architect or a product designed specifically to enhance the travel experience. Our brief is to make you want to be there and inspire you to seek out incredible design examples when you travel, or in your own city. 

Stephanie Williams, is an interior designer,  writer and travel communicator. Stephanie was the first editor of Qantas epiQure and her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, television and online.  She also has a love of fashion design, borne while working for Comme des Garcons

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TERMINAL THRILL: Sydney Airport T1 Upgrade, Interview with Hugh Wehby, COO

TERMINAL THRILL: Sydney Airport T1 Upgrade, Interview with Hugh Wehby, COO

With the terminal experience becoming an increasingly important part of travel, Sydney Airport has been working hard to enhance their offering for passengers, visitors and staff.  As Australia’s busiest airport, the improvements program will deliver a better terminal experience with enhanced technology, upgrades to emigration and security, clearer sightlines, improved wayfinding, more seating closer to gates and raising the height of the roof to allow more natural light and a clearer view of the city skyline.

Hugh Wehby, Chief Operating Officer Sydney Airport sat down with Stephanie Williams from Design Travel to talk through the finer points of the upgrade.

SW: Who is the lead architect and design and have they worked in the airport space previously? 

HW: The concept design is an outcome of a collaborative process involving Sydney Airport and Cox Architecture for the formation of a reference concept design. The design further evolved under Group GSA as Adco Construction design architect. A number of key people at Cox and GSA have extensive design experience with international airports and more specifically at Sydney Airport.  As part of the development, Sydney Airport and Cox undertook an extensive consultation process with airline partners to ensure optimised terminal and operational planning, passenger experience and architecture were achieved.


SW: What was the inspiration for the upgrade?

HW: We wanted to create a new, passenger dwell, lounge and dining experience that provided comfort and made a statement. We were inspired to bring natural light into our terminals, and create a genuine sense of space for passengers waiting for their flight. The existing, complex space had numerous building columns and a low 2.5m ceiling, and we set the team the challenge of opening up that space to create a new experience for passengers. In partnership with our designers, we developed a robust architectural plan to raise the height of the roof to 17 metres, flooding the area deep into the airside terminal with natural light and extending views out to the airfield through floor to ceiling windows.

The first phase of the project was delivered by erecting four, custom built columns to the exterior of the building. Once in place, a domed roof structure was affixed that clear spans the existing building and allows Sydney Airport to achieve a column free interior. We needed to achieve this while operating in secure, airside areas – a unique logistical challenge for the team, and one that they managed extremely well.

The contemporary furniture and finishes within the dwell space offer passengers a range of different seating options, from banquettes and large dining tables, to smaller pods and lounge chairs with soft fabrics to optimise comfort.  A range of living ferns and palm plants have also been incorporated to enhance ambience and provide a tranquil rest point for passengers.   


SW: What can customers expect right now at T1 International?

HW: Passengers travelling through T1 International can expect to be greeted with an enhanced and relaxing dwell zone closer to gates. The new area features a greater range of seating options with new connectivity points, living plants to enhance relaxation and exceptional views out to the airfield. A wider selection of food and beverage options provide greater value and choice to passengers and feature a number of first to Australia and first to Australian airport brands. This includes Terrace Chinese Kitchen by award-winning chef Sum Wai Kwong, Korean cult food brand, BBQ Chicken; and a flagship Campos Café & Bakery.

SW: Longer term, what are the plans for Sydney Airport?

HW: We’re focused on enhancing the passenger experience, and every project within our terminals must contribute to this outcome. Our design direction seeks to achieve this by introducing improved wayfinding and a range of options for passengers’ dwell times, to create a seamless airport experience. We’re achieving this by:

  • Optimising terminal planning and interior architecture to define clear passenger streets and circulation spaces

  • Application of consistent and neutral facilitation spaces, that enhances the unique design presentation of key dwell, retail and lounge precincts

  • Ensuring ambience, wayfinding and passenger facilities consistently underpin the passenger experience and

  • Ensuring durable finishes and contemporary furniture and fixtures are delivered for all designs.

Tapping into the customer’s desire to be constantly connected, and harnessing the power of technology, has been integral to the design of our terminals. We’ve done this in a range of ways:

  • New smart gates at T1 departures have significantly streamlined the emigration process, reducing processing times

  • A total of 18 e-Directories have been strategically positioned across our terminals, featuring five language options to aid passenger navigation

  • Our updated Flight Information Display Screens (FIDS) feature information in 13 destination languages, a first for an Australian airport

  • Our technology strategy is allowing us to connect with passengers and deliver the right message at the right time across multiple touchpoints, such as programmatic platforms, social media, geo-targeting and free Wi-Fi. This is giving passengers more control over their airport experience, using the platform they choose, and

  • We’ve recently launched a new indoor Google Maps feature which empowers visitors to navigate through the airport directly from the palm of their hands.

We have a number of exciting retail, food and dining brands to launch in the coming year, with a continued focus on delivering the best of global and local concepts that provide passengers with value and choice.

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