World-renowned airport architect Curtis Fentress is surprisingly modest for someone who recently topped off his many awards and professional achievements with the 2010 Thomas Jefferson Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), as previously reported by Contract magazine. This is just one of the more than 330 awards he has received throughout his career. Specializing in iconic airport design, and known to create some of the world's best-ranked and best-recognized airports, Fentress also has appeared in more than 1,200 design-related books and publications. Here, Fentress shares his perspectives on his career and design philosophies.
1. You just received public architecture's most prestigious award, the Thomas Jefferson award. Congratulations! How do you feel about your success?
Thomas Jefferson was an architect, thought leader, inventor, and the author of the United States’ Declaration of Independence. As this award was named after him and his incredible achievements, I’m very humbled to receive this prestigious honor.
2. What sparked your initial interest in design?
My love for drawing and architecture sparked my interest in design. These passions continue to drive me.
3. If you had chosen a career other than architecture, what would it be and why?
I would have been an artist creating sculptures. Building designs can evoke dramatic forms—like Denver International Airport passenger terminal’s white peaked roof—that’s part of the art in public architecture.
4. What are some favorite projects you have worked on, and why?
Some of my favorite projects have been the Denver International Airport, the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Greater Washington, D.C., and the modernization of the Los Angeles International Airport. These designs are very unique and interesting. Each presented me with complex challenges that are very much a part of creating public architecture.
5. Who or what inspires your designs?
Eero Saarinen and I.M. Pei have been very inspiring to me in my career as an architect.
6. What is your overall definition of design?
Design is everything we see and everything that functions for us, from buildings and cars, to machines, to the clothes we wear. Design enhances our lives, making it more fun and interesting.
7. What drew you to specialize in airport architecture?
Several things about airport design made it a natural choice for me. I enjoy the complexity of airport design and balancing the needs of multitudes of stakeholders. It’s one of the most complex and challenging public processes to navigate. I also am driven by the desire to make airport terminals exciting and directly relate to air travel and flight. I am on a constant quest to create and refine the world’s best “curbside to airside” passenger experience.
8. What challenges have you encountered in your career? Successes?
Architecture is very much about problem solving. The biggest challenges in my career have been searching for innovative solutions to complex problems and balancing the needs of large groups of people. It’s exciting to reach the “ah hah” moment where a unique design solution solves those needs and helps create great public architecture.
9. What advice would you give to other architects and designers?
Remember why you became architects, and try to keep the art in architecture alive.