The Eye

Tokyo’s New Low-Cost Airport Terminal Uses Running Tracks as Wayfinding Guides

The new low-cost Terminal 3 at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, built ahead of the 2020 Olympics, uses running tracks in place of moving walkways.

Photo by Kenta Hasegawa

Tokyo isn’t hosting the Olympics until 2020, but the Japanese are getting a running start on the upcoming event with the recently opened Terminal 3 at Narita International Airport dedicated to low-cost carriers.

The project is a collaboration between Nikken Sekkei, Ryohin Keikaku, and creative lab Party based in Tokyo and New York. Building a low-cost airline terminal meant that the designers had half the usual budget for the project, but they managed to produce a clever, minimalist space that has an industrial feel and includes a signature piece of witty, cost-effective design.

An ingenious wayfinding system eschews moving walkways and illuminated signage by implementing color-coded running tracks used for track and field that the designers say are easy on the feet. With the addition of simple signage, it’s an eye-catching design that seems ripe for copying.

Easy wayfinding at the new Terminal 3, dedicated to low-cost carriers, at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.

Photos by Kenta Hasegawa

Madoka Shimotsunuki, a public relations manager at Party, told me in an email that the designers chose blue tracks “for departure [to] express the color of the sky,” and earthy red-brown was chosen to “express the sense of relief” of arrival.

The overall look of the terminal has a pared-down, humbly pleasing aesthetic. The largest airport food court in Japan, which seats 450 people, includes simple wood tables and chairs. Upholstered waiting area seating from Muji has a low profile—and unlike many forbidding, generally rigid plastic airport seating options, it is not designed to prevent stretching out, curling up, or, possibly, napping.

Unholstered seating by Muji in waiting areas looks more inviting than your average plastic airport chair.  

Photos by Kenta Hasegawa