26 November 2019
With a 700,000 m2 footprint, the Beijing international airport is one of the largest and busiest in the world. It currently handles 45 million passengers a year, but by 2025 it will be a transit point for 72 million, with estimates suggesting that this figure will rise to 100 million by 2040. The gigantic and futuristic radial structure, in the stunning and poetic shape of a six-armed starfish, was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, and has already become an iconic symbol of the Chinese city.
The design, produced in collaboration with engineering firms ADP Ingénierie and Buro Happold Engineering, is an informed mix of traditional Chinese architectural principles – interconnected spaces organised around a common central space – and the sinuous, fluid forms typical of Hadid Architects. The radial configuration of the airport is surmounted by a totally unique roof: an immense flower-shaped skylight supported by imposing hollow pillars channelling natural light into the terminal. Parabolic columns and vaulted ceilings, culminating in a series of circular light wells punctuate the space, perceived as a continuous thoroughfare.
Given the immensity of the project, the challenge was to remain user-focused, in order to guide and simplify peoples’ movements as much as possible, as well as allowing passengers to get to their planes as quickly as possible – according to Hadid Architects, the distance between the check-in eGate and between each of the gates is never longer than 600 metres, and never more than an 8-minute walk. The spaces interconnect to a large central courtyard, which is the real heart of the airport. This great central piazza has been built on several levels and conceived as a public meeting place for passengers from all over the world. Cutting edge, almost futuristic technology ensures the intelligent and efficient organisation of all these spaces, coordinating traveller services: facial recognition systems, smartphone boarding access and automated check-ins, making for swifter border crossing times. Lastly, an 80,000 m2 multimodal transport hub has been integrated into the terminal building, providing direct transfers to the centre of Beijing on local and national rail networks, including high-speed trains which take a mere 20 minutes to reach the city.
The airport also has extremely green credentials. Situating most of the departure gates in a terminal with a single passenger transit area means that extremely high targets have been met in terms of environmental management and sustainability, cutting energy consumption and CO2 emissions by 50%. Shading strategies, high-performance glazing and lighting systems geared to curbing energy performance have all played their part in this. There are a great many solar panels that produce electric energy from renewable sources. The airport’s centralised heating with heat waste recovery is supported by a geothermal pump system. Much thought has also gone into water management, with the provision of a rainwater collection system, allowing the airport to collect and phytopurify up to 2.8 million cubic meters of water. Excess water will be channelled back into new wetland areas, lakes and streams, preventing flooding and countering undesirable effects on the local microclimate.
In today’s world, made up of perpetual travellers and tremendous mobility, a substantial part of our lives is spent in the places where these tendencies are more common: in immense airport areas. For this reason too, one of Beijing Daxing International Airport’s many aims is to be a place (no longer a non-place) where it’s worth stopping, relaxing, socialising, having fun or working. A multifaceted, happy island that you don’t simply “pass through” but one where you can “live life.”