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

    You Can’t Design Bike-Friendly Cities Without Considering Race and Class

    Bike equity is a powerful tool for reducing inequality. Too often, cycling infrastructure is tailored only to wealthy white cyclists.

  2. Transportation

    With Trains Like Schwebebahn, No Wonder Germans Love Public Transit

    Infrastructure like this makes it clear why Germany continues to produce enthusiasm for public transit, generation after generation.

  3. Equity

    The FBI's Forgotten War on Black-Owned Bookstores

    At the height of the Black Power movement, the Bureau focused on the unlikeliest of public enemies: black independent booksellers.

  4. Amazon HQ2

    Amazon’s HQ2 Fiasco Will Cost the Company More Than It Costs New York

    The mega-company has bucked dealing reasonably with New York City, Seattle, and any community that asks them to pay for its freight.

  5. Amazon HQ2

    Without Amazon HQ2, What Happens to Housing in Queens?

    The arrival of the tech company’s new headquarters was set to shake up the borough’s real estate market, driving up rents and spurring displacement. Now what?