Mike Bain/Terminal

The most functional part of airport design gets turned into stark yet elegant art in a new poster series.

Maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that some folks out there are obsessed with the patterns of airport runways. After all, the humble airport carpet has inspired socks, stationery, tattoos, and a global pattern encyclopedia. Should we expect any less admiration for the macro design decisions made by airport planners than that devoted to the finer details?

Graphic designer Mike Bain is looking at the bigger picture. He's taken the runway patterns of five domestic airports and given them the popular minimalist-poster treatment. The prints look like they could be icons for the cities that host these airports.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. (Mike Bain/Terminal)

In an interview with Fast Co. Design's Carey Dunne, Bain says that his airport obsession has driven him to "planespotting, listening to air traffic control, and renting three hours in a full motion 747 simulator at American Airlines' Pilot Training Center in Texas."   

Bain's prints, which he is selling through his website for $110 a pop (and at exhibits), have a streamlined Suprematist quality to them, like an extremely clean composition by Malevich or El Lissitzky. The posters even sort-of kind-of resemble El Lissitzky's geometric compositions in space, the Proun series (an acronym for "Project for the Affirmation of the New" in Russian).

San Franscisco International Airport (Mike Bain/Terminal)

Maybe Suprematism's a stretch. But the prints definitely belong to the growing field of design that starts with infrastructure and winds up with abstraction. In a way, that's just an extension of the process by which Portlanders came to admire the PDX airport carpet so much—an abstract carpet design modeled on the runway pattern that became a soft part of the airport's infrastructure.

Memo to Bain: You should probably get on that PDX print.

Logan International Airport in Boston (Mike Bain/Terminal)
Newark International Airport in Newark, New Jersey (Mike Bain/Terminal)
John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York (Mike Bain/Terminal)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    The First Pedestrian Has Been Killed by a Self-Driving Car. Now What?

    In Tempe, Arizona, an autonomous Uber struck and killed a woman crossing a street at night. The incident is likely to test the public’s tolerance of AVs on real-world roads.

  2. A LimeBike and LimeBike-S are pictured.

    I Have Seen the Future of Urbanism and It's a Scooter

    While you’re still trying to figure out dockless bikes, there’s a new two-wheeler to share around town. It could be a bigger deal than you think.

  3. A young refugee from Kosovo stands in front of a map of Hungary with her teacher.

    Who Maps the World?

    Too often, men. And money. But a team of OpenStreetMap users is working to draw new cartographic lines, making maps that more accurately—and equitably—reflect our space.

  4. Design

    The Seductive Power of a Suburban Utopia

    Serenbe, an intentional community outside Atlanta, promises urban pleasures without the messiness of city life.

  5. Maps

    America's Loneliest Roads, Mapped

    An interactive map highlights the least traveled routes in the country—and some of the most scenic.