Everything in Dubai tends to be larger than life. And so is the city’s Dubai International Airport. Opened in 1960, the sprawling structure now covers more than 3,500 hectares. In terms of sheer floor space, the airport’s imposing Terminal 3 even counts as the world’s second largest manmade structure! A mere 45 kilometers away from this architectural feat, Dubai’s second airport – the Dubai-World Central International / Al Maktoum International Airport – is set to become the world’s largest commercial airport in terms of sheer handling capacity. And despite Dubai’s already impressive aeronautical set-up, this new addition will not replace, but simply complement the existing airport arrangement.

All photos by Dubai International Airport

At the other end of the spectrum, Wellington International Airport might be small fry in terms of annual passenger volumes – a “mere” five million compared to Dubai International’s potential 75 million and even less significant than modest-sized neighboring Auckland or Christchurch –, but the New Zealand capital’s airport boasts a striking design that propels it among the best in the world. Take its international terminal, otherwise known as “The Rock” (2010). The brainchild of architects at Studio Pacific Architecture and Warren and Mahoney, it has received numerous design awards and plenty of international attention far beyond the southern hemisphere for its abstract, yet elegant homage to the jagged Wellington coastline.

All photos by Wellington International Airport, (2010) www.wellingtonairport.co.nz

The addition of its fourth terminal turned Madrid-Barajas into the world’s second largest civilian airport by area. Designed and devised by Estudio Lemala, TPS, Initec, and Richard Rogers – the latter best known for his daring Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris or London’s Millennium Dome, now called The O2 – the bamboo-clad terminal is defined by a roof that seems to hover over the building and features numerous skylights.

All photos by Aena Aeropuertos

Singapore’s Changi International Airport places nature center stage – its Terminal 3 even hosts a generous garden and butterfly enclosure. This might seem like an unusual treat in view of the airport’s overall size and international significance: In 2012, more than 51 million passengers passed through this busy hub. With a fourth terminal scheduled for completion in 2017 and a fifth already in the planning, Changi has become more than just a place to board – for Singapore’s citizens, the airport counts among the city’s most popular draws and common shopping or dining destinations.

All photos by Changi Airport Group

The Japanese wabi sabi experts at Kisho Kurokawa Architects and Associates lent Kuala Lumpur’s unusual airport its unique shape and appearance. Blending the best of Madrid’s and Singapore’s extravagant designs – an arresting roof and plenty of nature – their flight of fancy houses a fully-fledged rainforest.

All photos by Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad

Considering the prevalence of top ten lists, it should come as no surprise that airports also have their own ranking. In the renowned Skytrax surveys, Munich’s airport usually makes the grade with consistently high passenger satisfaction level. Some of this is probably down to its light, bright and airy architecture with all-white main buildings and departure halls accented by glass, aluminum, steel, and natural stones. But the airport’s own brewery might also sway public opinion – its delicious Airbräu adheres to the famous German purity laws.

All photos by Flughafen München

So, what are you waiting for: With many more airports currently upping their game to bowl you over and take you up, up and away, are you ready for take-off and a few new uplifting aesthetic experiences?

Text: Alexandra Schade
Header image: Munich Airport seen from the northeast with Alpine panorama, by Flughafen München