By Meghan Hall
The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has emerged as one of the top-ten airports in the United States, with 51.8 million passengers passing through the airport in 2019. The bustle and chaos of the airport, for many, , can be stressful, but Alaska Airlines and Seattle-based Graham Baba Architects have sought to create an environment that hardly encourages relaxation or an easy mindset. The lounge, which debuted in the summer of 2019, seeks to give flyers an easy respite inspired by a sense of “home” and Alaska Airlines’ place in the Pacific Northwest.
“I think the lounge is special here because it really is of the place, of Seattle and of the Northwest. [Alaska] did not want to have a legacy lounge; they wanted to contrast and be very different,” explained GBA Principal Maureen O’Leary. “…Our charge was to reimagine the travelers’ experience, moving away from the corporate environment or slick cold office like environment of some of the legacy lounges to a more familiar environment of the home that is warm, cozy, comfortable and inviting to everyone.”
The new lounge marked the completion of Phase One of Sea-Tac’s North Satellite Modernization Project, a partnership between the Port of Seattle and Alaska Airlines. The 255,000 square foot expansion added more gate seating, regional restaurants and amenities for guests, of which the lounge is a part.
For the lounge, the goal was to create a welcoming environment that would accommodate not just the typical high-end or business traveler, but everyday passengers, in a residentially-inspired setting. To accomplish this, the 15,800 square foot lounge is divided into four zones: Come In, Help Yourself, Take a Breath and Cut Loose. Each space has its own distinct furnishings, acoustic properties, floor and ceiling materials, and lighting. By providing a variety of different spaces, the lounge then becomes accessible to all.
“Each zone had its own palette to reinforce the overall notion of what each zone is about,” stated Brett Baba, founding partner of GBA. “The materials and details are reflective to what you would see in a home, rather than in a corporate office.”
Baba continued, adding, “There is a warm, tactile quality that is different from most airport lounges. In this way the Alaska Lounge is very innovative, as it creates both an inviting and amenity rich space to relax, recharge and refresh for a family to a single business traveler.”
“Come In” is the first zone that visitors encounter. The entry to the lounge begins at the concourse level, where a fifty-foot-wide window demarcates the lounge and provides a glimpse inside. Oak frames provide detail to the corridor, which is anchored by a threshold and large, central fireplace. Here, guests can find the concierge, designated by a sculptural wood desk and illuminated topographical screens. Twenty-foot-tall windows allow visitors views of the runways, downtown Seattle, and Mt. Rainier.
Just beyond is the “Take a Breath” portion of the lounge, where guests can take advantage of high-backed, tufted fabric banquettes. Custom-designed chaise lounge recliners are also available, and carpeted floors and lower lighting levels work to create a calmer, quieter ambiance.
“Help Yourself” is located at the center of the lounge. A monolithic bistro counter offers food and drink on all sides, while leather banquettes, moveable tables and fixed counters offer flexibility.
“Cut Loose” features an oval-shaped walnut-topped bar as its focal point, and is illuminated with airplane bottles in a back-bar display. End-grain oak floors surround the bar and blur into an indigo-dyed bar front.
The lounge is a far cry from the typical legacy lounges, which feature cooler tones and more commercial design and are often designated for select travelers only.
Lighting fixtures reminiscent of jet engines and recycled cardboard screens are just two of the many accents and locally fabricated fixtures that can be found throughout the space. GBA and Alaska looked to bring in local artisans wherever possible to connect the lounge to the Pacific Northwest and Seattle. GBA and Alaska hope that the range of spaces and the depth of the design will keep travelers coming back to frequent the lounge, and that they will experience the space in a different manner each time.
“There’s also surprise moments,” said O’Leary. “The goal is that you’re going to go multiple times, and that you find things as you go…There’s just layers upon layers of details so you won’t get bored. [The space] will just grow in depth the more often you go there.”