"Situation Terminal" (via Philip Greenspun) laments the generally lousy state of modern airport design. Author Paul Goldberger writes that:
Airports are essentially machines for processing people, airplanes, automobiles, cargo, and luggage—all of which move in different ways, and which need to be connected at certain points and separated by rigid security at others.
The problem, he notes, is that in most current facilities are:
....an efficient layout for airport operations, as long as you don't consider passenger pleasure to be a part of airport operations.
I don't have a lot of experience with airports around the world—I've never been to the new terminals in China and Europe that Goldberger profiles as rare successful airport architecture—but I think Vancouver's YVR does a surprisingly decent job of it.
While many Vancouverites continue to complain about the "Airport Improvement Fee," instituted in the early '90s when the Canadian government leased the facility to the Vancouver Airport Authority, the money from that fee has transformed what was a small, drab, concrete slab during my childhood into a much larger, more interesting, well-lit, and beautiful space.
One thing I do find puzzling at YVR: most of the huge collection of Northwest Coast native art is well displayed, but it's in the international arrivals area. That's the one part of the facility where people are moving as fast as they can to get off their planes, through Customs, and out—where they'll spend little to no time looking at the artwork. There's a lot less of that stuff in the departure areas, which is where passengers are sometimes waiting around for hours, and where they might find some use looking at the art. Weird.