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Cathay Pacific's new airport lounges

Lounge design needs to satisfy loners and more sociable creatures.

Premium flyers probably don't ponder the psychology behind airline lounges, but it's central to David Nelson's work. As head of design at London-based Foster & Partners, which recently renovated three of Cathay Pacific's four Hong Kong airport lounges, Nelson and his team have plumbed the habits and desires of global nomads.

"The business traveller these days is somebody who's going to be working incredibly intensely," Nelson says. "The only downtime you have is when you're on the plane or in the lounge. So there is a kind of a psychological need to be private, to be separate." To satisfy that craving, Foster & Partners created the Solus chair exclusively for Cathay's Hong Kong lounges - a semi-private pod in which passengers can recharge themselves and their gadgets, eat, make calls and work with minimal eye contact and no personal space issues.

Not everyone wants to cocoon, however, so lounges must satisfy diverse moods. Hence the Japanese residential vibe in the Bridge lounge, the canteen-style noodle bars (serving moreish dan dan noodles) and the bakeries and coffee carts in each of the Cathay lounges. As Nelson says, "It's a bit like a very good house that's designed for parties."

One of the world's best-known architectural practices, Foster & Partners has designed projects as diverse as London's Millennium Bridge and the Wembley Stadium to the Reichstag redevelopment in Berlin and Abu Dhabi's futuristic Masdar City. The Cathay brief was their first attempt at airline lounge design. The biggest challenge, Nelson says, is making them function smoothly at peak times.

"It's relatively easy to provide pleasant surroundings if there's hardly any passengers. But trying to cope with high-density numbers and still give a level of privacy and make sure everybody's catered to is a challenge a lot of airline lounges have."

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