Airport adds productivity, leisure spaces


The new lounge spaces Steelcase designed for the airport offer a "calming experience" to travelers. Courtesy Steelcase

Editor's note: The version of this article in the Dec. 4 print edition incorrectly features a photo of furniture by another manufacturer. The correct photo is below.

As part of its ongoing Gateway Transformation Project, Gerald R. Ford International Airport this fall added places for business travelers to keep working while waiting to board their planes.

The four spaces were designed by Grand Rapids-based Steelcase via a 10-year, $1-million sponsorship. They are designed to offer a “calming experience” and provide “connection and respite” for travelers, Steelcase said.

The two business centers and two work-life lounges in Concourses A and B were unveiled Sept. 27 in conjunction with the completion of phase one of the airport’s Gateway Transformation Project, a $45-million expansion ongoing since 2015.

Cherie Johnson, director of Steelcase Global Design, said it is unusual for a small-scale airport to have spaces like these — and even more unusual that they would be publicly accessible.

“It’s not based on a flight class or business lounge pattern, which you have to pay for. It’s available to all guests that come to the airport,” she said.

Ford Airport Board Chair Roger Morgan said the spaces were added to amplify the sense of hospitality to travelers.

“For four straight years, we have seen record passenger growth, and we are on pace to make it a fifth,” he said. “We saw a need to make improvements for the passengers and to continue to deliver top-notch customer service and amenities.

“We are committed to being West Michigan’s gateway to the world. We want people to step off the plane and know they’re in West Michigan.”

Johnson said since Steelcase specializes in office environments, its main focus in designing the spaces was boosting guests’ productivity but in a “humane” way.

“We are trying to provide an ecosystem of settings with a variety of places for people to work, beyond the typical posture of people sitting in a chair by the gate or on the floor in the hallways by the power outlet,” she said.

To that end, her design team created a series of personas to define the target end users. They envisioned guests as individual business travelers, group business travelers and parents with children.

The business centers are geared toward the former two groups — with a mix of tall tabletops with stand-up stools and comfortable group seating areas for networking. The work-life lounges have a relaxing, noise-masking atmosphere for parents who need to get work done when they have children in tow.

Steelcase designed the spaces with the following goals in mind:

  • Enriching the comfort, convenience and experiences of travelers and guests  

  • Delivering differentiated choice and control

  • Creating areas for respite and privacy, away from common airport chaos

  • Supporting emotional, physical and cognitive well-being

  • Addressing needs of all generations and passenger types

  • Supporting technology use and providing access to power devices

To accommodate privacy needs, the designers used acoustic and visual masking products in Steelcase’s existing portfolio, including the Brody Workplace Lounge.

“What are the products like the Brody Workplace Lounge that screen you a bit or have (sound) absorbing qualities?” Johnson said. “For some people, the distraction is visual. How do we pay attention to helping people not be visually distracted?

“We looked at the products in relation to the architecture and tried to be thoughtful about how we placed them.”

The Brody Workplace Lounge is a desk-like pod that has wraparound shielding for visual privacy in front and back, and it comes with power outlets and ergonomic seating.

Part of situating the products in context of the architecture included placing half the spaces farther from the intercom, for those with long wait times who need to work, and half the spaces closer, for those who have shorter layovers.

“We tried to look at spaces available, location, proximity to the gate in the A wing and B wing, and make sure we had a broad range of spaces,” Johnson said.

Jim Gill, Ford Airport president and CEO, said $17 million of the Gateway Transformation Project’s cost has been raised via sponsorships, like the 10-year commitment Steelcase signed.

“How many airports in the country can say they asked their community to support a project like this, and that community came through?” he said. “We have an exceptional, philanthropic spirit here in West Michigan, and that is now showcased through our gateway to the world.”

The first phase of the Gateway Transformation Project included a consolidated passenger security checkpoint that centralized and combined security screening to one main checkpoint in the airport, eliminating separate screening for passengers traveling through Concourse A or B.

Other new features include terrazzo flooring, lighting fixtures, restrooms and nursing rooms, family restrooms, pre- and post-security kids play areas, meet and greet space, and retail, food and beverage offerings.

Amway is the project’s title sponsor, with a gift of $8 million. Other donors of at least $1 million include Meijer, SpartanNash, Spectrum Health and Wolverine Worldwide.

Bill Payne, vice chair of Amway, chair of the Regional Air Alliance and Gateway Transformation Campaign cabinet member, said the donations reflect each organization’s pride in the community.

“Having a modern, world-class airport is critical to West Michigan’s economic vitality, and this will be the reason West Michigan continues to attract more business, more jobs and more people for generations to come,” he said.

The project’s second phase, which will include improvements to the airline ticketing, baggage screening and baggage claim areas, currently is in the design phase. Construction is slated to begin in 2018.

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