Graphic Patterns Are Actually Naturally Occurring Airport Runway Designs

Graphic Patterns Are Actually Naturally Occurring Airport Runway Designs

Lauren O'Neill's project depicts the beauty and complexity that air traffic controllers have to work with.

Ross Brooks
  • 16 may 2014

Lauren O’Neill is graphic designer and art director who has been fascinated with airports for as long as she can remember, so much so that they recently became the subject of a project of hers called Holding Pattern. The Tumblr blog is a collection of satellite images taken from Google Maps that demonstrate both the complexity of an airport’s layout, and how much they can change from one regional hub to another.

There’s something about the comings and goings, the organization and operation, the… I can’t quite put my finger on it… that’s so intriguing to me. Day-to-day, I glance out my window and watch planes circle about waiting to land. Whether DCA, JFK, or the little local airport, I’ve always lived in a direct flight pattern of an airport.

A holding pattern is actually a tactic used by flight controllers to delay an aircraft already in flight, but O’Neill has some reason for why she chose that name. “I love the idea of circling above an airport waiting to land. I feel like that mirrors my process of searching for + cropping the right shot,” explains the designer.


Not only do the images prove how difficult it must be as an air traffic controller, but they also help to show there is a lot of method in the apparent madness. “I love the fact that a lot of the taxiway markings are patterned across an airport’s tarmac,” said O’Neill. If you look at the images for long enough, you can start to make sense of the gate markings, stopping points, intersections, and other visual cues that help countless aircrafts throughout the day.

O’Neill picked the airports on display at random, but if you have any suggestion for the project, she’s happy to hear them. If nothing else, the images might give you something to think about next time your flight is delayed, especially when you consider the amount of aircraft traffic that has to be maneuvered everyday.


Lauren O’Neill // Holding Pattern


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