Foster placed the gates for domestic travel along two sides of the front triangle, which means that some of the planes, instead of being on a faraway concourse, nestle right up to the building. That’s one part of his reinvention. The other is in the kind of aesthetic experience that Foster gives international travellers as they disembark. In most airports, you are hustled off the plane and up stairs, down escalators, around corners, and along endless low-ceilinged, interior corridors before you have the privilege of standing in a line to show your passport. At Beijing, Foster has put all the international flights in the rear three-sided building, which is similar to the front one and almost as grand, and you walk off the plane right into his vast space, a celebration of arrival awash with natural light. Nothing could be further from the windowless basements of Kennedy airport.
Nothing bothers me more when traveling than losing my sense of direction: between my Orienteering merit badge and the frequent experience of getting lost on purpose, it takes a lot for me to not be able to figure out where I am, what direction I'm facing, or reverse my directions. But this happens with surprising regularity when I fly: Frankfurt, London Stansted, Houston, and Pierre Trudeau are all a big mush in my head.