The Terminal That Looks Like An Old Train Station: Vilnius Airport

When it comes to continental Europe, airports like Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Madrid tend to get most of the attention. However, if we move a little east to the small Baltic country of Lithuania, we’ll find a rather unique terminal building in the form of Vilnius Airport’s arrivals hall. Reminiscent of an old train station, some are calling for this nearly 70-year-old structure to be torn down. Here’s why…

Vilnius Airport
Serving Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius Airport handled five million passengers before the health crisis. Photo: Getty Images

Completed in 1954

When you picture a modern airport serving any large city, you might typically envision a large structure made of glass, fitted with high ceilings and large windows letting in natural light.

For Vilnius, Lithuania, to say the international airport’s arrivals building structure is less than modern would be an understatement. Vilnius Airport’s original structure (now used exclusively for arrivals) was constructed in 1954, during Lithuania’s 50-year-occupation by the Soviet Union (1940 to 1990).

While pretty much everyone is thrilled about Lithuania’s independence, there are certainly some fascinating remnants of the Soviet occupation, including part of the airport and its architecture. Indeed, this old building was built in the style of Soviet classicism.

The front of the building is adorned with columns and arches, and within those arches are statues of workers. Moving to the inside of this structure, you’ll see an intricate ceiling, columns throughout, with the central atrium fitted with a grand chandelier and a beautiful railing for the second level.

Vilnius Airport interior
The main waiting area within the arrivals hall of Vilnius Airport. Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying

This building is, of course, just half of Vilnius Airport. Indeed, the facility’s departure area is a separate building located immediately behind the arrivals building. Constructed in 1993, the departures area is a little more updated, with boarding areas much more reminiscent of a modern airport.

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An expensive upgrade

Sometimes it’s more cost-effective to start with a clean slate than to upgrade an existing structure. This is apparently the case for Vilnius’ old arrivals building. According to LRT, the country’s transport minister says that upgrading the current building would cost two times as much as constructing a new one.

“The airport does not fit Lithuania’s image and also does not satisfy functional needs, therefore, I do hope we will find common sense-based solutions on what to do with it…There are several options and the optimal one is to demolish this building.” -Marius Skuodis, Transport Minister for Lithuania

Skuodis says that preserving some parts of the structure would cost twice as much as demolishing it.

Vilnius Airport
A view of the more modern departures building and the boarding gates. Photo: Lithuanian Airports

Marius Gelžinis, the head of the agency tasked with managing the country’s airports (aptly named Lithuanian Airports), says maintaining the building has become quite costly. Indeed, LRT notes that Gelžinis has pegged the cost of repairing the stairs, roof, and facade this year at 1.2 million euros ($1.41 million). That’s not an annual cost, but outside of repairs, Gelžinis sets aside 100,000-200,000 euros for regular maintenance and upkeep of the structure each year.

A part of cultural heritage

Officially listed in Lithuania’s Cultural Heritage Register, the country’s Cultural Heritage Department doesn’t see why the building needs to be demolished- of course, they’re not the ones having to deal with airport expansion and repairs.

 

At the end of the day, there are very few terminal buildings in the world from this era that are still functioning in the same capacity as Vilnius Airport. It would be a huge shame to lose such a unique building. At the same time, the airport’s desire to increase capacity is only natural, and this relatively small but expensive structure stands in the way.

What do you think should be done? Should this structure be demolished? Let us know in the comments.

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