Nick Mafi, Architectural Digest
If there's one hard fact about the design of a Zaha Hadid–designed structure, it's that they were built to be noticed. And that's certainly the case with one of her final projects before her untimely death in 2016, Beijing's Daxing International Airport. Critics and fans alike wait years, often upwards of a decade, to finally see the actualized version of her imitable vision, witnessing the delicate weaves of her lines go from a proposal to a physical structure. Which was exactly what happened yesterday, in China's capital city, after five years of construction, when the Pritzker Prize–winning architect's Beijing Daxing International Airport was completed.
There was much hype leading up to the completion of this airport (in fact, it was named one of AD's 14 most anticipated buildings of 2019). The opening ceremony was attended by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, who surely was using the event as a political boost, as the country prepares to celebrate its own version of Independence Day on October 1, marking 70 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Patriotism aside, much of the excitement came from the fact that the new airport, Beijing's second, is now the largest single-structured airport in the world. Spanning more than 7.5 million square feet, along with four runways, PKX (as is the new airport code) is expected to handle 72 million passengers a year by 2025. By 2040, four additional runways will be added to accommodate 100 million passengers a year. For almost every other airport in the world, these types of staggering numbers would cause passengers difficulty moving throughout congested spaces. Perhaps more than any other architectural element, it's the ease of navigation that makes Hadid's design so special.
"The terminal layouts minimize the walking distances between check-in and gate, and also the distances between gates for transferring passengers, to a maximum of eight minutes by foot," says Cristiano Ceccato, ZHA's project director for the Beijing Daxing airport. "Transferring passengers only need to walk a short distance to the center of the airport, then quickly and efficiently funnel themselves to any other of the four legs in the airport. What's more, the international and domestic passengers are stacked on different levels. By stacking the international and domestic areas vertically—instead of spreading them horizontally—we enable a more congestion-free space for passengers."
Beijing's newest airport, which is a 20-minute express train ride from the Daxing District (a southern suburb of Beijing), has a starfish design, with each of its legs handling over a dozen gates (the airport has a total of 79 gates). The center point where passengers move through, which Ceccato alluded to, was inspired by traditional Chinese architecture. Much like the traditional structures within the country, the central thoroughfare acts as a sort of courtyard, allowing passengers to easily navigate their way around the massive space.
The rooftop, which allows in ample natural sunlight, also has supporting beams that move constantly through the space, acting like lines toward the central courtyard. This, once more, was intentionally done to assist passengers in their navigation of the busy airport.
We live in a digital epoch of architecture that has allowed fantastical buildings to shift from the theoretical to the materialized. Yet that doesn't always mean that computer-enhanced designs will be admired, or stand the test of time. It's too soon to tell what future generations will think of Zaha Hadid's Beijing Daxing International Airport. For now, however, the design has shown that alchemy is still possible in modern architecture.
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The new Beijing Daxing International Airport is 46km south of the city centre (20 mins by express train). . Alleviating congestion at the capital’s existing airport, Beijing Daxing will be a major transport hub for the region with the world’s fastest growing demand for international travel. . Initially serving 45 million passengers per year, Beijing Daxing will accommodate 72 million travellers by 2025 and is planned for further expansion to serve 100 million passengers and 4 million tonnes of cargo annually. . Beijing Daxing’s 700,000m² passenger terminal includes a ground transportation centre offering direct connections to Beijing, the national high-speed rail network and local train services. . Echoing principles within traditional Chinese architecture that organise interconnected spaces around a central courtyard, the design guides all passengers seamlessly through the relevant departure, arrival or transfer zones towards the courtyard at its centre. . 6 flowing forms within the terminal’s vaulted roof reach to the ground to support the structure and bring natural light within, directing all passengers towards the central court. A network of linear skylights also provide an intuitive system of navigation throughout the building, guiding passengers to and from their departure gates. . The compact radial design allows a maximum number of aircraft to be parked directly at the terminal with minimum distances from the centre of the building, providing exceptional convenience for passengers and flexibility in operations. . 5 aircraft piers radiate from the terminal’s main central court where all passenger services & amenities are located, enabling passengers to walk the comparatively short distances through the airport without the need for automated shuttle trains. . Incorporating photovoltaic power generation, centralised heating with waste heat recovery and a composite ground-source heat pump system, the airport implements rainwater collection and a water management network with natural storage, natural permeation and natural purification of up to 2.8 million cubic meters of water in new wetlands, lakes and streams. . Great video by #DanChung .
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