Alex Duncan, Design Director at JPA Design
Dining Area of the Air China Lounge in Beijing
JPA Design is a pioneering aircraft, rail and hospitality design company based out of London & Singapore. Their customers include: Singapore Airlines, American Airlines, Air China, Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, Gulf Air, US Airways, Oman Air and Japan Airlines. Since they're one of the top lounge designers in the world, we wanted to learn more about how they approach each project and their design process. Our Q&A with them is below.
Q: Explain the approach you take when designing a new lounge. How do you begin the design process?
A: The key is through extensive research to gain as deep an understanding as possible of what the client is trying to achieve; the style and breadth of service they wish to provide, their operational requirements, their brand values, the cultural context and of course, most importantly the passengers' expectations of the lounge as part of the overall travel experience.
Q: How much time does it usually take to go from the initial design discussions to a finished, publicly accessible lounge?
A: This can vary greatly and can be affected by a myriad of external influences. For example a recently completed medium-sized project took about 23 weeks of effort from start to finish while another project I can think of was not completed until about two years after we finished the initial design concept work due to lease negotiations between our client and the airport. In general terms however we would expect to spend approximately 12 to 16 weeks in the design and documentation process with the construction phase taking between 16 and 26 weeks after that to complete, depending on the size and complexity of the project.
Q: How would you describe the overall design aesthetic of the lounges that you help create?
A: The lounges that JPA Design for each of the airlines we work with are always custom designed to reflect that airlines brand values and service ethos as well as travellers needs and expectations. And so there is no single design aesthetic that applies and 'one size' certainly does not fit all.
Photo by JPA Design. In January of 2011, JPA Design helped launch the Oman Air First and Business Class Lounges in Muscat Airport. These lounges combine the ultimate in modern and elegant interior design, state-of-the-art materials and technology combined with elements of contemporary Arabian design.
Q: What sources of inspiration do you draw from when creating these lounge oases?
A: Before JPA begins the design process for an airport lounge, we seek out inspiration from the culture, art, local architecture, colours, patterns and landscapes that form an intrinsic part of that carrier's country of origin.
Q: Are there any particular unique features or touches in the lounges you've created that you're particularly proud of?
A: The lounges for each airline have an array of unique features and it would be difficult to single out one particular element of which we are most proud. But if pushed to do so, I feel the journey from the busy airport concourse through the arched, intimate corridor at Gulf Air's Falcon Gold Lounge at T4 London Heathrow into the main area, with its high ceilings and windows along two elevations, is a very pleasing experience. As JPA had originally intended with the design, this has a subliminal evocation of the journey into the central courtyard of a traditional Arabic dwelling from the street.
Q: What are the most important elements of a lounge's design and layout?
A: It is crucial to create a comfortable, relaxing environment in which the choice of facilities is clearly presented to passengers as soon as they enter the space so that they can enjoy their stay in the lounge to the maximum, depending on how they wish to spend their time there. A key element is ensuring that seating clusters cater to both individuals and groups of varying sizes without any one person being able to take perceived "ownership" of a particular area. At the same time the lounge must work efficiently for the operator.
Photo by JPA Design. In March 2011 the JPA designed 'Gulf Air Premium Class Lounge' at London Heathrow opened to the public. It features an entrance with elegant, contemporary archways which draws passengers into the lounge. The interior is contemporary but there is a subliminal Arabic ambience that reflects Gulf Air's heritage.
Q: Outside of your own lounges, do you have any favorite airport lounges where you really admire their design?
A: The Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul is a well-designed space with a very smart interior. It's not only a good experience for travellers, but a benchmark to showcase how far Turkey has come in its design approach to just about everything. For a JPA designed lounge, I would have to say that it is always the one we are working on or the one we have just completed. Designing airport lounges continues to be such an immersive, enjoyable and challenging experience.
Q: How do you handle working on major projects all over the world?
A: Ever since JPA Design was established in 1982, the majority of our projects have been located outside of the UK. As a result and over time, we have managed to build a cosmopolitan team, speaking several different languages, at both our London and Singapore offices and we have had the pleasure - and challenges - of working in all manner of locations and conditions. However we still have to establish good, working relationships with local consultants if necessary to assist in ensuring our core design intent is realized during the construction stages. In many locations language has not always been an issue but we have found it very helpful to have Mandarin speakers amongst our team when working in China for example.
Q: What has been your most challenging project to date?
A: Each project has its own challenges, which often relate to budgetary and programming constraints. Although it has been a very positive experience for us all working on the recent Air China projects, the sheer scale and speed of the Shanghai lounges project, our largest by far to date, has probably made it the most challenging we have undertaken. But these challenges only serve to ensure that we are better placed to design great customer-centric lounge experiences in the future.
Photo provided by JPA Design. JPA helped design the brand new 'Air China Lounge' at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport. It is the first of Air China's lounges to feature an 'open top' design, in which the roof of the airport terminal also forms the ceiling of the lounge.