Page D4.2 . 17 September 2008                     
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    Beijing Terminal 3 by Foster


    Bright Behemoth

    Made up of three slim, connected volumes — T3A, the processing terminal; T3B, international gates; and T3C, domestic gates — the terminal stretches essentially north-south in a long, mostly linear form. The building forks out at either end from cathedralesque halls, extending the perimeter to accommodate a total of 120 gates, 85 of which are contact aircraft stands.

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    Passengers heading towards their gates find the space paring down intimately along their journey. The slenderness of the design has also kept the footprint small and manageable, and orientation straightforward.

    Visual cohesion was a clear priority in the design, and practically the project works well — there's little that's easier to navigate than a straight line. From tip to tip the airport is 3.25 kilometers (two miles) long, but all-around glazing and an open upper mezzanine level have kept sight lines clear. High-speed automated people-movers hit up to 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour), making the cross-terminal journey in about two minutes, end to end.

    There is a color zoning system in the roof canopy, starting with bright red at the T3A entrance, and moving through 16 different flame-colored tones through T3C to the end of T3B. The same colors add texture and enhance the curves above the arrivals and departures hall.

    International arrivals enter on the upper level to a sweeping view of the airport — a far cry from the corridors and basements so common in airports worldwide.

    In the roof, a steel space frame supports triangular roof lights and colored metal decking. Extra-large mullions are widely spaced to allow large, light-friendly spans of suspended glazing.

    The palette was culturally inspired, according to Foster. "This is a building born of its context," he says. "It communicates a uniquely Chinese sense of place... in its dragon-like form and the drama of the soaring roof that is a blaze of 'traditional' Chinese colours — imperial reds merge into golden yellow."

    Also fitting neatly with images of the regal and religious in China, an army of bold red pillars marches along the central axis and continues outside.

    Sustainable Design?

    The architects have stated that sustainability also drove the design, bringing much-needed environmental goodie points to a city too often cloaked in smog. In fact, Foster has called T3 "one of the world's most advanced buildings in environmental terms."

    Foster + Partners has provided few details to bolster this claim, however. One example the firm gives of passive design is the southeastern orientation of skylights to maximize morning heat gain in the terminal.

    But other sustainable features are described in vague terms: an environmental control system that "minimises energy consumption"; dimensions that allowed "optimum performance of materials," many of which were supposed to have been procured locally. Unfortunately, the firm's representatives were unable to offer information in any more detail for this ArchitectureWeek article.

    Life in the Fast Lane

    Operationally, the building has fared quite well in the months since its opening. Large-scale operations can make for large-scale headaches, however, particularly in a country so new to modernity.

    Critics, such as writer Han Song, who penned an article entitled, "The capital airport's new terminal is like country train station," have reported a disappointing lack of seating; the incongruous use of low-tech communications devices, such as megaphones and whiteboards; and people milling about aimlessly "like on market day." Flattened cardboard boxes have been used for seating in bare smoking areas.

    The project's speed was unprecedented. It was built in less time, famously, than it took to hold the public inquiry for Heathrow's Terminal 5 in London. Within only five months of Foster + Partners winning the T3 project, the firm had set up its China office and produced the design. At the peak of construction, 50,000 workers were recorded on site.

    "Consider that this is a building of 1.3 million square metres [14 million square feet]," notes Foster, referring to the terminal and the attached ground transportation center, "yet remarkably it was commissioned and completed in a little over four years."

    That speed may be impressive, but could also be cause for concern — especially when noting China's reputation for parting people from their homes with little or no compensation, as well as the often passive nature of its trade unions.

    But on the whole, the UK-China collaboration has very much taken off: a triumphant balance of "wow" factor with efficiency, super scale with comfort. Olympic contenders will find it a memorable welcome to a city of the new millennium.   >>>

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Jo Baker is a freelance design and travel writer based in Hong Kong and San Francisco. Publications she writes for include Time, The South China Morning Post, and Hinge Magazine.



    ArchWeek Image

    Tapering red columns meter the expansive facades of Terminal 3.
    Photo: Nigel Young/ Foster + Partners Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Inside one of Terminal 3's grand halls, the glazed facade and overhead skylights provide ample daylighting.
    Photo: Nigel Young/ Foster + Partners Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    A complex structural latticework is visible just beyond the minimal ceiling over each of the terminal's two large halls.
    Photo: Nigel Young/ Foster + Partners Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Terminal 3 site plan drawing.
    Image: Foster + Partners Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Terminal 3 departure hall section drawing looking south.
    Image: Foster + Partners Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Beyond the main halls, the long narrow connecting buildings are covered by a curving glazed roof.
    Photo: Nigel Young/ Foster + Partners Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Triangular skylights punctuate the opaque roof above Terminal 3's two large halls.
    Photo: Nigel Young/ Foster + Partners Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    At its apex, a teardrop-shaped multilane road passes along the curved southern facade of Terminal 3.
    Photo: Nigel Young/ Foster + Partners Extra Large Image


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