KCI airport interior

Designing a More Inclusive Airport

How meaningful public engagement in Kansas City shaped the vision for a terminal that welcomes all travelers

“Can we pump barbecue smells through the terminal?” one gentleman asked. “You’ll know where you are as soon as you step off the plane.”

At each of the three dozen community meetings our team at SOM attended in Kansas City, we fielded a bevy of requests and all manner of ideas for the design of the region’s new one-million-square-foot terminal.

Many asked for more charging stations, better restrooms, or that it be centered on a fountain, just like the ones adorning the boulevards for which the city is known. Above all else, participants called for the terminal to be comfortable, convenient, and welcoming to all.

Though our firm has designed aviation projects in SeattleTorontoMumbaiDublin, and Bangalore, to name a few, Kansas City International Airport (KCI) was different. Voters approved the terminal’s construction by public referendum and the process called for multiple series of open meetings. This gave us the extraordinary opportunity to hear directly from the traveling public before we ever set pen to paper.

Beginning in 2017, our team fanned out across six city council districts and into neighboring Kansas. We met thousands of citizens in community centers, police stations, and churches. We quickly learned the depth of sentiment held by Kansas Citians for their airport, and what their aspirations were for the terminal.

As architects, planners and engineers, we see these buildings not only as civic structures, but as embodiments of a community’s character and values. When a traveller steps off a boarding bridge, the terminal is their first impression of their destination.

It is our responsibility to convey a sense of place through the terminal’s architecture. For the Kansas City region, this meant creating a certain Midwestern hospitality — a welcoming character that invites all people of all backgrounds and abilities into the terminal.

The mandate for inclusion we heard in those community meetings was strengthened when the mayor and city council issued a resolution calling for the terminal to be “the most accessible in the world.”

KC airport community engagement
Through a series of engagement sessions, Kansas City residents helped to define the vision for the new terminal.
KC airport community engagement

Inclusivity through intelligent planning

KC airport

Beyond the requirements

Gender neutral bathrooms at KCI airport
Accessible, gender-neutral restrooms contribute to inclusiveness at KCI. Image © SOM | DRAW Architects

Amenities for all passengers

Sensory room at KCI
The sensory room at KCI will provide spaces for play and respite. Image © SOM | DRAW Architects

Access to the terminal, access to the world

Baggage claim at KCI airport