Airport’s Culturally Inspired Landscape Garners Surfacedesign Honors

Surfacedesign won a 2020 American Architecture Award for its work at Auckland International Airport (AKL). The honor—in the Urban Planning/Landscape Architecture category—was awarded by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.

“Because 75 percent of New Zealand’s visitors land in Auckland, airport management wanted to highlight the country’s historic land-use practices at and around the terminal,” says Surfacedesign Co-Founding Partner and Auckland project lead James A. Lord, FASLA. “Our ecological landscape design is culturally rooted, informed by New Zealand’s centuries-old agrarian traditions from its indigenous Maori settlers and European immigrants in the 1800s.”

The nearly six-square-mile (1,500-hectare) landscape design was initially commissioned in 2007 and has since expanded to include phased improvements through 2044. The overall approach balances ongoing airport expansion with environmentally conscious urban design. Surfacedesign’s bold landscape treatment purposely makes a lasting impression from both air and ground. The firm’s design incorporates large geometric patterns inspired by sacred Maori stonefields (mounded-rock terraces that provided protection against weather and intruders), herringbone hedgerows planted by New Zealand’s European immigrants, abstracted shapes referencing Auckland’s natural volcanic and coastal topography, and “V” patterns found in bird flight (significant in Maori culture) and runway chevrons. The overall plan cohesively connects existing greenspaces and creates additional airport-adjacent recreational opportunities—including a mountain-bike park and 45 acres (18 hectares) of new open space.

Above and beyond references to New Zealand’s rich agrarian history, the landscape design fulfills the airport’s sustainability goals. To re-purpose excavated dirt on site instead of trucking it to a landfill, Surfacedesign animated the previously flat Oruarangi Creek Public Open Space with mounds patterned after abstracted seashells. Stormwater remediation is another priority. Run-off into Oruarangi Creek and Manukau Harbour follows the traditional Maori natural filtration philosophy that water should always pass through rocks before entering a larger body. The project’s primary stormwater remediation pond, at the Auckland Airport Sculpture Park and Walk across from AKL’s retail district, combines ecological intervention and artistic amenity. A corridor of trees lures birds from the runway to the pond; lowland edge plants encourage additional wildlife habitation. Planned green infrastructure at AKL’s terminal plaza will include permeable gardens that naturally filter stormwater. All hardscape materials and plantings are sourced locally, further minimizing the project’s carbon footprint.

Now in its 26th year, The American Architecture Awards honor new and cutting-edge design in American architecture in the U.S. and abroad. The jury chose the 2020 winners from more than 400 projects. Surfacedesign’s American Architecture Award for Auckland International Airport is the firm’s second consecutive honor, following 2019 recognition for landscape design at the Anaha multifamily complex in Honolulu.

Image Credit: Blake Marvin (supplied by surfacedesign)

About Damian Holmes 3312 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at