Heathrow Terminal 5
A Tough Reputation
Largely unpopular and grudgingly used, Heathrow suffers an earned reputation for being overcrowded, shabby, and dated. In 2007, TripAdvisor called it the world's least favorite airport.
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With many of Heathrow's passenger facilities built in the 1950s and refurbished little since then, it's no wonder that European business travelers have preferred flying out of London's convenient City airport — a highly efficient, pleasant, modern airport known for minimal delays — and that vacationers tend to use the low-cost airline hubs of Foster-designed Stansted or even Gatwick.
It has also been suggested that London's biggest airport is in the wrong place, and that it should be in East London; this was the subject of a study commissioned in the 1990's that suggested moving the airport to a site in the Thames Estuary.
The low-lying location of Heathrow makes it prone to fog, and its location makes it necessary for aircraft to take off and land over the city. But the potential benefits of reducing noise and pollution locally have failed to outweigh the political and environmental pressures to redevelop rather than move the airport.
The saga of building the ambitious new terminal began in 1989, when Rogers won the design competition with engineer Peter Rice and Arup structural engineers. Their scheme called for a sprawling single-level concourse covered by an undulating roof.
Following the competition win, the design changed dramatically during the planning process and four-year public inquiry (reportedly the longest such inquiry in British history). Budget, siting, and program issues, along with the advent of new technologies and changes in security demands, led one critic to liken the airport planning process to "nailing down jelly."
Over the course of more than a decade of planning and public consultation, the designers began to realize that a solution allowing an internally flexible interior was necessary to allow for changing needs in retail and transportation.
The site was also examined in more detail, and an effort to minimize disturbance of the surrounding land led the designers to a more compact site footprint and therefore a more vertical building design.
With five stories above ground and with about the same footprint as London's Hyde Park, Terminal 5 is massive. The building is located on the west side of the airport site, between the two runways, on the site of a former sewage treatment plant.
Passenger areas extend over two levels across the building, with service areas below and rail links in deep tunnels. The terminal is expected handle 30 million passengers annually when it is fully up and running.
Under its sinuous roof, the complex program is contained in a series of compartmentalized spaces, allowing a procession from one to another while emphasizing ease of vertical movement. The single-span roof — reportedly the longest of its kind in Europe — allows column-free interior spaces.
Rogers has described the prefabricated roof structure as "assembled like a Meccano [model construction] set with the whole structure held together by bolts." The roof covering, delivered to the site as 3,000 pre-assembled cassettes, clads the sweeping form, supported by a structure of "trees." Rogers calls the connections of the massive steel trusses "knuckles." The building is designed so that the external cladding "fabric" is hung on the frame of the structure.
Airport as Destination
The interior of the new airport terminal was designed to be a retail and shopping destination, with the idea of making T5 a luxurious place to wait.
Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food restaurant offers gourmet picnics for travelers to eat on board, and there are various exclusive boutiques, such as Paul Smith and Smythson of Bond Street. The building houses more than 100 shops and restaurants, all opening at 5:30 a.m. to greet the first arrivals, and most closing after the last departing flight.
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