Flights of fantasy

Nearly two decades in the making, Terminal 5 by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners has permission to land.

Main building
Main building

Nearly two decades in the making, Terminal 5 by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners has permission to land.

It's a well-known fact of international travel that inevitably, flights can be delayed. Similarly, any architect knows that projects can also suffer from considerable delays. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that an airport terminal could be stuck in 'development hell' for nearly twenty years.

It was in 1989 that Richard Rogers Partnership won the competition to design Terminal 5 at London Heathrow. It is only now, in March 2008, that the project has finally been completed.

Much has happened in the last 19 years. Firstly, Terminal 5 is now a Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners project, reflecting the changes that have happened to the practice.

Meanwhile, the terminal design itself has been revised a further three times since the original competition winner, in response to feedback from both, client, British Airports Authority (BAA) and the general public.

Checking in

Concept Design 1 was the original competition winner put forth in 1989. Featuring a main terminal building which handled departing and arriving passengers on a single concourse level, baggage handling and technical services would take place beneath, at the undercroft level.

Terminal 5 featured the first in a series of undulating roofs that would recur in a number of Rogers Stirk Harbour+Partners projects in the 1990s, designed to filter controlled natural lighting into the interior of the building.

However, changing requirements resulted in a drastic reduction in the available site area. Questions were also raised over the long-term viability of and practicality of the single layer model. So Concept Design 2 segregated arrival and departure passengers.

This also led to a reconception of the operational spaces in the terminal, which would then be divided by 'canyons', allowing natural light to reach the lower levels of the building.

This design was opened to public enquiry in 1995, but during the process of the enquiry, BAA, questioned the compatibility of the canyon design with the needs of the building. BAA wanted a terminal that could be highly flexible and adaptable, able to meet new priorities in the future.

The new, more 'futureproof' Concept Design 3, anticipated the need for the building to respond continually to major new challenges, such as fast-track passenger processing, new airline alliances and configurations, the growth of retail and services, and the impact of ever larger and more complex aircraft.

These demands, in addition to changing security requirements, meant that the canyon concept was replaced by a more extensive and unbroken floor plan under a longer-span roof.

Cleared for take-off

The finalised design was officially opened in March 2008. The passenger areas are now all kept on one level, although they extend over two levels at the edges of the building.

Plant rooms, baggage handling and the other day-to-day infrastructure for the terminal are all carried out on a level below the passengers.

Although substantially modified, the 'wave' roof that was part of the original design set forth 19 years ago remains, with great bands of glazing flooding the interior with daylight and leading passengers through the building in a logical progression from arrival point to embarkation.

The wave roof is supported by structural trees, and the interior elements of the building are all contained within freestanding steel structures.

This means that the interior of the building can easily be reconfigured to react to developments in air travel, maintaining the flexibility requested by BAA.

In addition to the main terminal building, two 'satellite' buildings have also been planned. Concourse B is linked to Concourse A in the main terminal building by a people mover, while Concourse C is currently under construction and expected to be completed in 2010. These concourse buildings all offer separate points for boarding and exiting aeroplanes.

A greener gateway

Of course, no discussion of anything related to air travel can ignore the concerns of sustainability. As a result, Terminal 5 has been designed to include sustainable design features to reduce the building's overall environmental footprint.

Rogers made the decision to use air-conditioning, rather than natural ventilation. This was because the noise and air pollution generated by aircraft would make natural ventilation impractical.

However, a displacement air-conditioning system developed by Arup reduces energy use, while canopies and low eaves reduce solar gain on the south and east elevations.

Heating is provided by waste heat from an existing combined heat and power plant. This will provide 85% of the heating demand for Terminal 5 and will save around 11,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Meanwhile, boreholes will harvest rain and groundwater, reducing demand on the public water supply by 70% and reusing up to 85% of the rainfall that falls on the terminal's campus.

A safe landing

Overall, the entire project should allow Heathrow Airport to cater for an additional 30m passengers each year.

In creating a striking structure for the world's busiest international airport, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners have completed a design which they regard as significant in their oeuvre as the Pompidou Centre and Lloyd's of London.

Says Richard Rogers, "The project celebrates the magic of travel, creating a memorable place with a rich and varied public realm for travellers and those who serve them." The journey may have been delayed, but the final destination serves as a new example to follow in 21st century airport architecture.

Client: BAA plc

Architect: Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Structural Engineer: Arup

Services Engineer: DSSR/Arup

Quantity Surveyor: Turner & Townsend/E.C. Harris

Retail Consultant: Chapman Taylor

Civil Engineer: Mott McDonald

Principal Contractors: Laing O'Rourke/Mace/Balfour Beaty/AMEC

Construction Management: BAA plc

Total Project Cost: £4.3 billion (US$8.7bn)

Total Area: 300,000 m² Terminal, 60,000 m² Satellite 1, 55,000 m² Satellite 2

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