Futuristic new airport for Mexico City

4 September 2014
By Edd Gent
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The 555,000 square metre terminal building will be entirely enclosed within a continuous lightweight gridshell

The 555,000 square metre terminal building will be entirely enclosed within a continuous lightweight gridshell

A futuristic new airport designed by a British architect will ease delays and boost capacity in Mexico’s capital after gaining approval from the government.

The new six-runway project has been designed by Norman Foster, the brains behind the new Wembley Stadium and the Gherkin, and Fernando Romero, a son-in-law of Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, and will be built next to the Benito Juarez International Airport on the eastern flank of Mexico City, where the government already owns land.

The X-shaped design with arching spans of 100m and more, three times that of a conventional airport, according to Foster, will cost a total of 120bn pesos (£5.57bn) in public and private funding and is intended to be the world’s most sustainable airport.

"This airport is the first of its kind in the world," Foster said while showcasing the design at the Presidential Palace in Mexico City. "It doesn't have a conventional roof. It doesn't have vertical walls. It doesn't have columns in the normal sense."

The airport will consist of a single terminal – entirely enclosed within a continuous lightweight gridshell – which uses less materials and energy than a cluster of buildings and ensures short walking distances, few level changes and no need for internal trains or underground tunnels.

The lightweight glass and steel structure and soaring vaulted roof are designed for Mexico City’s challenging soil conditions, according to Foster, which include frequent earthquakes and the fact that the capital lies on a lake bed.

Foster + Wheeler's design for a new airport in Mexico City

A pre-fabrication system will be used to speed up design and remove the need for scaffolding and by servicing the entire building from beneath the roof will be free from ducts and pipes. The structure will be capable of harnessing the power of the sun, collecting rainwater and ventilating the building using displacement ventilation principles.

The airport will initially have three runways, but an expansion plan up to 2062 will see an eventual six runways installed and the government ultimately hopes to boost capacity to 120 million passengers a year within 50 years.

Telecoms and Transport Minister Gerardo Ruiz Esparza said he expected construction to start in mid-2015, adding that the government is in negotiations with US engineering firm Parsons to take on the role of construction manager. He added that the current airport would eventually close, with the land being used for university buildings and cargo.

Mexico's government will finance the first stage of the new airport and aims to issue up to 30-year bonds to finance later stages, a senior project official said. Factoring in projects including construction management and water-related issues on the site will raise the overall cost of the airport to 169bn pesos (£7.84bn).

The project follows an abortive bid to build a new airport near the chosen site under former President Vicente Fox. That effort met with violent protests in which demonstrators armed with machetes and Molotov cocktails took 19 officials hostage after the government initially offered locals around 70 cents per square meter for land. It was cancelled in 2002.

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