Madrid Takes Flight
The airport is distinctive and monumental in its language yet fits smoothly into its site. The undulating roof and horizontal baseline reflect the counterpoint between Madrid's flat basin and the surrounding mountain ranges. The curvaceous form of the roofline also evokes the organic forms of clouds and ocean waves.
This elegant project started in an unpoetic way, with a number. In 1996, the Spanish National Airport Authority (AENA) selected the project team and specified 65-70 million as the number of passengers per year to be accommodated by the combination of existing terminals and the new one. This capacity would reposition Barajas as a hub airport and a gateway between Europe and Latin America.
The international design team was composed of over 150 architects. They were given just nine months to complete the drawings for an airport that is one of the largest such projects ever undertaken in Europe. The process was by necessity fast-tracked and required a design involving simple, legible, and easily repeatable units.
Ordering the Boxes
According to Ivan Harbour at Richard Rogers Partnership, the initial concept was of a series of boxes on the top of the boxes, passengers move toward the airplanes and on the bottom, away from the planes. Then the challenge was to effectively manage and distribute the flow of people and luggage while creating an environment sensitive to human needs. The driving force behind the project became transparency of movement.
The modular design consists in plan of a series of parallel rectangular boxes and daylit canyons between them functioning as wayfinding areas. Cross sections of the boxes reveal a clear repetition of forms. The alternating floor segments and light wells across the boxes direct the users through sequences of functions on different levels of the building. Inclined steel pillars support a sinuous, floating roof.
The modular approach made it possible to design the 13 million-square-foot (1.2 million square-meter) project on a highly accelerated schedule. It also fulfilled the criterion of scalability because the concourses can be expanded laterally with predesigned, "Lego-like" units. Birgit Schloesser and Adolfo Preus at Estudio Lamela explain that airports are by nature ever changing and require large-scale, flexible design solutions to adapt to future challenges.
The main concourse and a parallel satellite facility are identical in basic structural elements, but the satellite's interior is configured both to accommodate the heightened level of security necessary for international traffic and to handle domestic traffic as needed. A subterranean tunnel with an automated "people mover" and luggage transportation belts connects the satellite to the main building.
Light and Comfort
One of the key criteria set by the client was traveler comfort. The airport seems not clinical but very much alive and sensitive to human needs. For example, one defining aspect of the design is the rhythm of movement created by the light wells, or canyons, in the main building.
Simon Smithson, head project manager for Richard Rogers Partnership, considers these elements a way of slowing down the perception of the airport experience to a human pace because they allow travelers to pause for a moment to bask in natural light.
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