When Olsson’s Books made its first foray into high profile retail at Washington National Airport, the challenge was clear: how does a small local business attract the attention of the frazzled air traveler in just under 4 feet? The parameters were established by the MWAA (Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority) and Westfield Management, allowing shop tenants to build a narrow entrance and signage area 3’-11” into Cesar Pelli’s terminal concourse.
The solution began with an idea to contrast the light tubular steel frame and glass elements of the concourse with strong, simple planar forms. Formal and functional precedents for the portal were found in Japanese Torii, freestanding temple entrance gates that demarcate the boundary between the frenetic, secular world outside and the tranquil, spiritual world within. The portal defines a similar boundary between the large, bustling concourse with its high ceilings and crowds, and the peaceful, more intimately scaled space of the bookshop. The intent was to create a calm and contemplative place in which tired passengers could find a moment of repose.
The soft curve of the horizontal, thematically related to air travel, takes the shape of an inverted airfoil. This “wing” announces the entrance with a luminous surface of curving wood, creating a backdrop for two neon signs that appear to float. Gently tilting outward, the signs acknowledge the path of the concourse; since they can easily be read from both directions, this solution eliminates the need for “blade signs” and greatly simplifies the signage. The pylons serve as both structure and display, allowing passengers to browse as they are drawn into the shop. The MWAA required minimum field construction; consequently, the portal was made from prefabricated sections suspended on a lightweight steel frame.
Reagan Washington National Airport
Outerbridge Horsey Associates