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Sense of Place, Two Ways

Between board meetings and presentations (including my first big speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade on October 23), annual planning for 2014 and the regular day-to-day business of running an airport, this past month has been my busiest time in the YVR CEO seat yet.  I also managed to squeeze in a trip to Nassau, The Bahamas, to celebrate the grand opening of the last of three phases of construction at Sir Lynden Pindling International Airport’s (LPIA) gorgeous new International and Domestic Departures terminal on October 17.

I wouldn’t have missed this grand opening. I spent an amazing four years there as CEO, from 2006 to 2010, as part of our associate company Vantage Airport Group, which built and operates the terminals there. Back in 2006, one of my jobs in Nassau was to convince stakeholders of the importance of building a world-class airport, one that reflected the world-class tourist destination it serves. After years of planning and development, Nassau’s gorgeous new terminal is ultra-modern and operationally sophisticated. But the proverbial cherry on the sundae is how its art, architecture and design reflect Bahamian culture and geography. We call this sense of place, and it’s an idea that we pioneered here at YVR.

Whether they’re returning home from an overseas trip or visiting for the first time, travellers are regularly wowed by YVR’s art and architecture. People have told me that they “exhale” as they walk through Pacific Passage on their way to Canada Customs. I’ve also heard passengers describe their sense of pride in our airport – and the opportunity to share it with millions of visitors every year. Thundebird in Pacific Passage

None of this happens by accident. We take the same rigorous approach to design as we do to business planning or terminal construction. Every single decision – from the patterns in our carpet to the finishes in our retail stores – is guided by a plan. This plan ensures that YVR “celebrates the natural beauty and the cultural heritage of B.C. while recalling the memories of significant local community icons and experiences.” More simply put, this means that from the minute you step off a plane at YVR, you know you’ve arrived in beautiful British Columbia.

Some of my favourite elements?  Pendant lights hung at varying angles to evoke a log jam on the Fraser River. The rock wall in C-Pier that subtly pays tribute to the Sea to Sky corridor connecting Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler. The friendly town square vibe of the international food court that evokes the communities of Steveston and Granville Island. The genius of glass-walled aircraft bridges that frame our incredible land-sea-sky views so beautifully. And of course, our Northwest Coast First Nations art– the largest private collection of its kind in the world, anchored by Bill Reid’s spectacular Spirit of the Haida Gwai: Jade Canoe. I wonder how many people pose for photos in front of this sculpture every year. One of my personal favourites is Hetux (Thunderbird) by Connie Watts, in Pacific Passage and pictured here. It is simply a beautiful expression of art, form and flight.

Back at Nassau Airport, one of my favourite art features is a collection of flamingos in flight. The Flamingo Project by Dede Brown shows a flock of the Bahamian national bird taking flight, right above the exit for passengers heading to the Family Islands in The Bahamas. There are too many great pieces to mention here. Suffice it to say this collection - along with the terminal's colours, textures and light - greatly enhances the traveller’s sense of place. When you arrive and depart from LPIA, you know you are in The Bahamas. The Bahamian and Canadian teams who built the terminals are justly very proud.

Flamingos in flight at Nassau airportIt’s a great legacy we have passed on: for 17 years, YVR’s uniquely West Coast sense of place has provided an incredible first impression to visitors, and that’s a responsibility we take seriously. Beautiful surroundings can also help make travel – sometimes a stressful experience – a lot more pleasant.

Safe travels,  




  • John Bliss wrote on Nov 14 2013 AT 9:41 PM

    All I want from an airport is a smooth and speedy passage to my flight; ditto coming home.

    Art and architecture belong in galleries and buildings respectively.

    I suggest the airport improvement fee is to be used to make the airport a functional facility, not a 'destination'.

    The $20 AIF per passenger is a TAX and we are forced to pay for fancy features that do not improve ones travel experience.
  • frank oneill wrote on Nov 15 2013 AT 10:49 AM

    The world would be a drab and dreary place if we refused to celebrate through art and architecture what is special about where we are.  At airports many spend several hours waiting for flights.  Give me a pleasant rather than a warehouse environment.  It can be designed so as not to impede someone who prefers to dash to the gate! 
  • Doug Barry wrote on Nov 15 2013 AT 1:54 PM

    Well put Frank. Thanks for the part you played. Craig, congratulations on the CEO position.
    (YVR Tower ~ retired)
  • Fred Eaton wrote on Nov 16 2013 AT 12:58 PM

    YVR is a world class airport. If a passenger does not wish to enjoy the great surroundings, shopping, restaurants and art,  then so be it. Enjoy your flight. For me YVR has a great sense of both calm and excitement. Well done and congratulations.
  • Tony Weinberger wrote on Nov 18 2013 AT 8:37 AM

    What I appreciate about the YVR experience is the ability to forget just how big our airport terminals are becoming.  With a collage of art work, presentations and sounds YVR has perfected the art of distraction from the ordinary and mundane.  

    Also, many airports have drab endless narrow corridors which are functional but not a very pleasant place to be.  YVR has taken a different path with wide open spaces with lots of natural lighting.

    Well done YVR!
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