King Shaka Airport

Here in Durban, besides the ever present ra-ra about the Soccer World Cup, it’s also about the new King Shaka Airport.

It’s been a huge change for most people living in Durban. Imagine if you had been living in the south near the old airport and were oblivious of the noise, and now: no interruptions to conversations, much less vehicle traffic; and also the people in the north having to get used to this.


I would have thought it would affect the property values negatively, but newspaper reports say no. The north has always been a slightly upper crust region: perhaps the flight paths have been designed to take this into account! In Athens long ago, their main airport was adjacent to the smartest seaside area of the town: Glyfada.

I toured the incomplete airport buildings in April 2009 with KZNIA, Kwa-Zulu Natal Institute for Architecture. We looked at the control tower (up about 150 steps, as the lift wasn’t commissioned) as well as the fire facility and the terminal building.

The lift will only go up to the floor below the working floor. I have thought for many years what a suitable career a Flight Traffic Controller would be for a wheelchair user, as few accommodations would have to be made. But it was deemed not suitable to have a platform lift between these floors.

About four months ago I joined a group from the Disability Sector with ACSA and the architect to do a ‘walkthrough’. We did not simulate a typical user’s experience of the place, but got a general idea of spacious spaces, with the same old 1.1m high counters, and good lighting, with long ramps going down to and away from the planes.

I used KSA, as it’s commonly called, to go to Johannesburg last week. Here in Durban we have been used to mostly walking to the planes across the airside apron; but now we’re popped into and out of the planes in tubes directly from the building, which is ‘International standard’. The building is long and narrow, running north/south (actually not so narrow but narrow in relation to its length) with the main entry and exits for people who park, and then go into the building at the extreme south end, on the lower arrivals level. The departure level is on the first floor, and you can be dropped off here if you have a lift to the airport, or, I suppose, be picked up there.

There are no rules of the land, relating to wayfinding, (thank goodness) but it is a fundamental requirement of good architecture. So most of my comments are really about the general circulation in this new piece of architecture. It is also absolutely vital to universal access. It is the building communicating with its users, and, if this is lacking, a building is not a success. Part of this is good signage, but signage, especially at an airport where travellers from other language and alphabet groups are common, should be kept to a minimum.

In this building, long and narrow as it is, the parking is tacked on to its south end, and is also long and narrow (as far as I’ve been able to see): the parkade is closest and then the shaded parking.

It looks as if it is really a far distance to walk. I arrived and left in the dark, and found it difficult to orientate myself even though I knew the layout.

Michael Sutcliffe, our Municipal Manager calls people who criticize the venue “Mother Grundy’s.” It is the attitude of the various players that makes one feel critical. I don’t think there was the will to respond to any of the requested guidelines provided, for accessibility.

One of the things I really do like, also related to wayfinding, is the signage on the departure level which hangs from above and at right angles to the incoming traffic, so that there are no poles on the kerb edge, supporting signage to obstruct pedestrians.

10 Years ago I did a survey of the old airport, and desperately asked that the check-in staff , which is a sitting job, have work places that are accessible. ACSA have advised that they are considering this, but it doesn’t appear so at present. Apparently much of the missing signage will be installed in the next few months:

Isn’t it a put-down to always be told ”Later”?

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