Incorporating Plants into Airport Design

Singapore’s Changi Airport’s butterfly garden and waterfall. Credit: Suhaimi Abjullah, Getty Images

Most people enjoy the experience of walking through a garden or forest and taking in the sights and smells of lush greenery and bright, sweet smelling flowers. When we think of an experience at the airport, we don’t usually get the same feelings as we do from this enjoyable past time. A lot of people would instead think of the long waits, the stressful flight connections and the sadness of leaving home or boarding a long flight.

It has been proven time and time again that simply being around plants (even photographs of plants) can have many positive psychological benefits, reduce stress and improve cognitive function. The most high-stress places such as schools, workplaces and hospitals have even benefitted from including plants in their décor. In these settings, incorporating plants have been shown to:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve reaction times
  • Increase attentiveness
  • Improve attendance at work and school
  • Raise productivity
  • Improve well-being
  • Improve perceptions of the space
  • Lower levels of anxiety during recovery from surgery
  • Raise job satisfaction

Airports can sometimes have the reality of being a stressful experience on our journey. Whether you are someone leaving home for the first time, taking their 4th business trip this month, or a student leaving their family for a year for exchange in a different country, you can surely benefit from the positive effects of plants. According to a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, touching and smelling plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress. Potting soil can even help boost your mood because it releases microbes which work as a natural antidepressant, increasing your serotonin.

Not only do plants have incredible benefits on mood and stress, they also clean up the air! As indoor air can sometimes be more polluted than outdoor air due to the presence of substances like asbestos, mold, benzene and carbon monoxide, exposure to these pollutants have need known to cause dry eye and headaches, further increasing the stress of being at an airport. Some plants such as Peace Lily and English Ivy can filter out most of these toxic pollutants, and other plants can regulate humidity and decrease the presence of airborne mold significantly.

The most obvious benefit of plants to the average person is the added aesthetic beauty that is given to the environment in which they are placed. It is no secret that greenery and flowers make excellent and inexpensive decorations and make the space livelier and more energetic. Many airports around the world have added plant walls inside of the airport which attracts photographs from excited tourists. Adding beauty to the airport environment can help people enjoy their experience more fully and possibly bring stories of all of the charming plants back home with them.

An embodiment of this approach is the Changi Airport in Singapore, which implemented an astonishing butterfly garden with 40 different butterfly species and a waterfall inside of the airport. This experience lets visitors witness the breeding and feeding of butterflies closely as they stroll through the lush greenery with over 1,000 tropical butterflies.

Not only can plants be incorporated inside of the airport, but they can also be incorporated onto the outer walls and roofs of airports as well. As the environmental movement grows, so does the implementation of green roofs and walls. Not only are these extremely pleasing to the eye, but they also filter carbon dioxide from the air and can help the airport take a step in the right direction for environmental stewardship.

A fascinating example of this is Frankfurt International Airport in Germany which implemented a whopping total of 40,000 m2 greenroof space on the terminal buildings, office tower building, maintenance, cargo, and other buildings to optimize land use with minimal negative environmental impacts. These green spaces are a place of refuge for plants and animals, and also helps double the life expectancy of the roof.

Frankfurt International Airport green roof. Credit: Fraport AG

Taking small steps towards improvement can incredibly alter the feeling of a space and the enjoyment of the people using it. Plants can make a great addition to airports by creating opportunities for happier flyers, cleaner air, and environmental leadership.

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