Breathing new life into abandoned airports

Once the flurry of planes and passengers dies down, airports sometimes slip into disrepair, serving as chilling reminders of financial ruin. However, with a bit of imagination and investment, the bleak remains can be turned into social or conservation spaces right at the heart of the community.


airport park

The relationship between a city and its airports is certainly a special one. For many visitors, the airport serves as the first glimpse into what a city has to offer, and a first impression that is hard to shake.

Airports old and new often celebrate figures of great historic or cultural significance, taking the name of presidents, world famous musicians or footballers. Alternatively, their simple presence can help place a city on the map, announcing its doors are open to the world.

When an airport falls into disrepair, however, it can leave behind an eerie, empty space whose former glamour swiftly turns into desolation.

But these spaces hold boundless potential and afew cities around the world have been quick to see the hidden possibilities in repurposing the sprawling spaces..

The mother of all airports – Berlin Templehof

Berlin GermanyBerlin’s Tempelhof is a huge, 909-acre former airport steeped in history. First build in 1927, Tempelhof was one of Europe's three iconic pre-World War II airports and became a vanity reconstruction project for the Nazi regime.

In 2007, the German government decided to close the airport, and just three years later, Tempelhof’s airfield became the city’s biggest park, hosting everything from family barbecues to yoga, skate and gardening sessions.

 Today, “the mother of all airports”, as British architect Sir Norman Foster called it, accommodates more than 100 tenants, from Chief of Police to a dance school. The adjacent buildings hosted fashion shows, concerts, fairs, and business events. A few hangars are also being used as emergency refugee accommodation for 7,000 migrants.

The Tempelhof Projekt, the state company currently in charge of the site, has been working on redeveloping a third of the airport that is currently not in use.

In 2015, stakeholders from all industries agreed that Tempelhof should be redeveloped as Berlin's new city quarter for culture and creative industries, also known as the Berlin Creative District. The approximately €6 million project is scheduled to open its doors sometime in 2019.

Ecuador’s Bicentennial Park

Quito EcuadorPut out of commission early in 2013, Ecuador turned its old Mariscal Sucre International Airport into a 125 hectares park right at the heart of Quito.

In an increasingly crowded city, Bicentennial Park is a favourite green spot featuring cafes, running and biking trails, playgrounds, outdoor gyms, museums, gardens, basketball and soccer courts, and music festivals.

Authorities are currently allowing natural greenery to grow, while planning to add a few manmade lakes and a new aquarium and events centre by 2020.

Hoteling at JFK

JFK Hotel AirportWhen it opened in 1962, John F Kennedy’s TWA Terminal stood as a futuristic, bold new construction and a symbol of a new era. However, just 30 years later, TWA's financial viability began to weaken and the terminal was finally shut in 2001.

Fifteen years later, the TWA is being turned into a striking hotel which will preserve the original architecture and hopes to return the “national landmark to its 1962 glory”, according to MCR Development, the company leading the project.

The hotel will feature 505 guestrooms, 50,000 square feet of conference, event and meeting space, six to eight bars and eateries and a 10,000 square foot public observation deck. The $265 million project also includes a museum focusing on New York as the birthplace of the Jet Age.

The new hotel and entertainment space are expected to be finished by late 2018.

Wartime airfield welcomes wildlife

Wildlife reserveNew York’s former Galeville Military Airfield served as a hectic air hub in World War II, but after being decommissioned in 1994, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) took over and turned into a wildlife park for grassland-dependent migratory birds.

The 565-acre Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge has been home to 178 bird species over the years. It currently serves as a lifeline to 12 different species of birds that depend on it, since some of them need at least 10–20 acres per nesting pair.

While FWS plans to create up to 30 acres of additional grassland by stripping the runway pavement and restoring the original cover, an eight-foot wide strip of concrete could be left for use as a public trail through the heart of this airfield turned wildlife reserve.

From airport to seaside resort

Athens GreeceAfter over 60 years in operation, Athens’ Ellinikon International Airport closed in 2001 and still lies abandoned after a few attempts at redevelopment failed to gain traction.

In 2016 however, leisure operation Lamda Development put forward a bold €7billion plan to turn the ruins into a glamorous seaside resort full of hotels, residences and shops.

“This project is a game-changer,” Lamda’s chief executive Odisseas Athanassiou told Reuters. “It is going to change the psychology of foreign capital toward investment in Greece.”

Backed by Chinese conglomerate Fosun, the project includes a €1.5billion road development plan and €5.5billion for the construction of 8,000 homes, hotels, shops and a 494-acre park. Developers hope that the new buildings will be ready by 2020.