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Fabric provides defining element for airport bar

Features, Interiors | January 1, 2009 | By:

A compact bar at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport lights up the traveler’s time and space.

When John Denver wrote the 1960s hit song, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” the lyrics were actually penned during an airport layover, and today, more than ever, air travel is weighed down by long delays and layovers. The growth of airport shopping, eating and drinking is a consequence of a captive, encumbered audience.

Many of these airport emporiums and eating establishments are anonymous, similar to those found along the highways and freeways across the land. A welcome contrast is Sköl, a bar designed by Hagen, Christensen & McIlwain Architects, of Minneapolis, Minn., for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The design of this airport bar features the clean lines, curvilinear shapes, light woods and colors characteristic of contemporary Scandinavian design.

At Sköl, fabric is the bar’s defining, prominent design element. Three inverted cones — fabric membranes stretched over stainless steel frames to create distinctive luminaries — shelter LED lights with color filters. The lamps slowly cycle over a 15-minute sequence through a pastel range of magentas and blues, dynamic colors recalling the palette of low sunlight reflected off a snowy white landscape.

Sköl’s Scandinavian design references are appropriate given the heritage of Minnesota’s early settlers, an inspiration extending to the bar’s cool, “polar” lighting. Together, the luminaries’ limited range of materials — fabric, steel frame and electric LED lights — coalesce to define Sköl. The fabric luminaries are the bar’s signature feature, sculptural elements that anchor the design and the space.

Located at the remote end of a long airport concourse, the bar is only 108m2, and laid out to be run by a small staff. Only two or three employees are required to manage a full service bar, as well as offer limited food service. Within a tight space the luminaries’ unique form yields light and identity, functioning similarly to the bar’s Plexiglas® signage, also illuminated by LED lights.

Fabric was the designers’ material of choice because of its malleable nature and its ability to withstand the LED lights’ heat. The material’s flame retardant nature also was a factor. Additionally, Sköl’s 10-week build-out schedule offered short lead time and little opportunity for error or experimentation. The fabric and standard stainless steel components were easily specified and constructed from stock catalog elements.

While the cone-shaped luminaries’ design is distinctive, the design is not highly wrought or overly complex, lending to ready fabrication. The project architect, Tim McIlwain, stresses the simple construction drawings utilized to define the luminaries’ framework. “We specified the steel elements, outlined their form and drawings and consulted with the supplier, W.L. Hall, to learn how to affix the fabric.” Simply tethered to the ceiling above and a low fin wall below, the luminaries were designed with minimal detailing, but their effect is maximal.

“Sköl!” is a Scandinavian exclamation to health, called out while imbibing. From name to design, Sköl is an homage to the region’s design sensibilities, landscape and light. The distinctive form and dynamic light offered by Sköl’s fabric fixtures are integral to forging this identity — light sculptures to enjoy while waiting for your jet plane.

Todd Willmert, a contributing editor for Fabric Architecture, is based in Minneapolis.

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