Nowhereland: Airport Gardens

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Rubber wheels on carpeted hallways, recycled air piping through shops lined with magazines and refrigerated shelves of fruit cups and two-day-old plastic-wrapped sandwiches. Airports don’t often inspire travelers to reflect on nature, but increasingly, international airports are becoming home to plant life, even entire ecosystems.

Airports in Chicago, Toronto and Shanghai have adopted gardens: butterfly, vegetable, even zen gardens into their halls of glass-enclosed lounges and florescent-lit terminals. Designers in Vancouver, Portland and Edmonton have created vertical gardens to refresh the stale airport air.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia even contains a patch of rain forest, complete with a waterfall, towering trees, lush fauna, and (recorded) wild bird sounds within a glass rotunda. Maybe it’s a contrived source of escape from the fast pace and sterility of commercial travel, but a short walk on the wooden Kuala Lumpur Jungle Boardwalk is, quite literally, a breath of fresh air. Plant life in the jungle space introduces fresh oxygen into the airflow. Enclosed in the Satellite building, the patch of forest was just recently opened to the public with the goal of integrating Malaysia’s tropical habitats into the airport’s interior design.

On the other side of the globe, Chicago-O’Hare is similarly taking advantage of its region’s natural wealth. To benefit its restaurants and their diners, the upper mezzanine of O’Hare is home to a columned garden that includes 26 pillars stacked with Swiss chard, arugula, basil, chives, cilantro, dill, sage, thyme, and hot peppers. So travelers having lunch and dinner at Tortos Frontera, Blackhawks and Tuscany are bound to encounter something unusual for the halls of preservative-laden edibles: a bite of something fresh from nature.

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