Plant Therapy: Why Airports Are Bringing the Outside In


In the jungle of Singapore Changi Jewel. Image via Alamy

Eating greens is good for you, and so is surrounding yourself with greenery – especially at the airport.

Airports are increasingly weaving plant life into terminal design, in a trend that looks set to flourish as we learn more about the psychological benefits of greenery. Among them is Doha’s Hamad International, which unveiled plans for an extensive indoor garden in its upcoming airport expansion, and Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International, whose ambitious new terminal designs include thousands of trees and other plants, incorporated both inside and out. 

Perhaps the best-known example is Jewel at Singapore Changi Airport, which opened last year, making headlines thanks to its 226,000 square feet of indoor jungle and 130-foot-high waterfall. “The lush greenery, natural light and rushing water produce a high concentration of negative ions,” says Kelvin Tan, head of User Experience at Jewel. “This is great for one’s general well-being, especially for passengers arriving on long flights.”

“Breathing air that has been filtered and oxygenated naturally has been proven to improve moods and reduce stress.” – Dr. Don Mordecai, Kaiser Permanente

It’s not just clever marketing. Research has shown that plant life has a significant positive effect, especially in an airport setting, where many experience elevated stress levels. Dr. Don Mordecai, national leader for Mental Health and Wellness at Kaiser Permanente, is an expert in this field. He raised awareness about the living wall and other calming installations at Oakland International Airport at the end of 2018. “We saw an opportunity to bring the outdoors inside and transform the area into a living, breathing, thriving outdoor experience,” says Mordecai, noting they’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback.

Plants are so effective because they work on several levels. “We specifically chose plants that act as biofilters and improve the ambient environment,” explains Mordecai. Indoor greenery boosts air quality by reducing dust levels, increasing humidity, controlling carbon-dioxide concentration and purifying the air of pollutants and toxins. “On a physiological level, breathing air that has been filtered and oxygenated naturally has been proven to improve moods and reduce stress. In addition, just looking at the wall itself can bring a sense of calm and peace, especially in a traditionally hectic space such as an airport security checkpoint,” Mordecai says.

Benefits in Bloom

  • Research shows that even 10 minutes of exposure to nature can reduce stress and boost mood and energy.
  • Stems, leaves and branches absorb and deflect sound and can make small airport spaces quieter and more relaxing.

This is not an entirely new concept – look at the much-loved garden-infused airports of the world, mostly found in tropical settings such as Honolulu in Hawaii and Samui. The difference is the realization that greenery can be effectively employed at any airport, not just gateways to tropical vacations. And as airports grow and more people take to the skies, it may prove to be an essential element – one that passengers won’t want to go without. 

“Plant Therapy” was originally published in the 10.2 April/May issue of APEX Experience magazine.