Beijing is about to get an airport that is large enough to handle the entire population of Britain in a single year, thanks to yet another collaboration between Arup and Foster and Partners
When the hordes descend on Beijing for the sporting and architectural extravaganza of the 2008 Olympics, they will do so at the world's largest, and most advanced airport building. Or at least that's what its designers say.
The designers in question are architect Foster and Partners and engineer Arup, the team that gave us Stansted in Essex and Chek Lap Kok in Hong Kong. Their latest project is the £1.1bn Terminal Three of Beijing Capital International Airport, the shell-and-core of which is due for completion in June.
This stupendous structure will be able to accommodate up to 55 million passengers a year. Its 1.1 million m2 takes the shape of two immense Concorde-like structures that stand nosecone to nosecone, one for international and the other for domestic flights. Although similar in its supersonic design concept to Chek Lap Kok, it is nearly twice as big, and has 60% greater passenger capacity.
The Beijing terminal's advanced low-energy design rests on its repetitive triangular rooflights. These are all orientated south-east to catch the warmth and daylight of the low morning sun in winter, but come with oversailing metal hoods that shield them from the high baking sun in summer.
All this is being designed and built in just four years, compared with six at Chek Lap Kok; completion is due in December 2007. Yet despite the fast-track construction and the use of repetitive elements, the building is not being assembled through prefabrication, as it would in the West. Rather, it is run entirely by Chinese contractors using a workforce of up to 50,000.
The reinforced concrete floors and columns are cast in situ. Likewise, the steel space-frame roof relies not on bolted nodal joints but on each individual member being laboriously welded into position on top of dense birdcage scaffolding.
Martin Manning, Arup director, says the use of such a vast number of on-site labourers does not impede the smooth running of the project: "Each day at 11am on the dot, 200 vans turn up, and every person on site is handed a bowl of rice as their midday meal. That shows how it's all going together like clockwork."
Manning signs off with a quick quip at London's expense. "They've got as far in 13 weeks as they have at Heathrow Terminal 5 in 13 years." And in two years' time, you will be able to compare the two end products yourself.
Client: Beijing Capital International Airport
Architect: Foster and Partners
Structural and services engineer: Arup
Airport consultant: NACO
Executive architect and engineer: Beijing Institute of Architectural Design
Main contractors: Beijing Urban Construction Group, China State Construction Engineering Company 8 Bureau