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AIRPORT DESIGN Last modified on October 4, 2017

Doing things differently

Landrum & Brown’s president, Brian Reed, reflects on a new approach to the design and development of airport infrastructure that should eliminate any disconnect between planners and architects.

Have you ever gone through the process to expand or build a new airport terminal by first carefully planning everything, just to have the architect virtually start over? It’s all too common.

The planning team looks at future demand and develops a space programme. They turn that into a preliminary layout plan. They work with the airlines and other users to understand and address their needs to get everything going in the right direction.

They evaluate financial feasibility and a financing plan by estimating construction costs, potential revenue streams, and impacts to rates and charges. They should look at environmental factors to get the project started off right.

Then the architect enters the picture. Although they intend to be respectful of the planner’s efforts, they see it as ‘planning level’ work, and set out to determine “how it’s really going to be built”.

They might begin with the space programme, but often take a fresh look at the layout. They may even look at completely different concepts.

Make no mistake about it, the architect will certainly put their own mark on the layout. They will further develop function, flow, rhythm, symmetry, theme and look. After all, they, ultimately, turn the project into a real building that gets constructed.

However, the disconnect between planning and architecture doesn’t have to be this way. Indeed, there are examples of seamless flow between planner and architect.

In fact, in some areas of the world the process often works very well. For example, in China, it is not uncommon to make all decisions at the beginning of the project, and then turn over technical production of construction drawing to technical experts who won’t start over.

In that case, the lead firm with both strong planning and architectural skills can work with the owner and all stakeholders to get all decisions made.

Everything gets set: size, layout, form, function, theme, look, cost, financing, environmental needs, decision maker consensus, tenant agreements etc. That firm then turns it over to local ‘design institutes’ to produce the technical plans and specifications.

These groups are essentially design firms that have evolved from former governmental agencies, and are exceptionally technically sound. That work is then provided to a contractor for construction.

Everyone complies with the findings that were made during the first phase of comprehensive decision-making.

The $7 billion project to add a new 700,000sqm East Terminal, satellite concourses and 400,000sqm Ground Transportation Centre (GTC) at Xi’an Xianyang International Airport is the most recent example of this type of approach.

The project will add 241 new gates and two new parking structures – covering a total of 400,000sqm – and two hotels.   

The West Airport Group selected Landrum & Brown as the project lead. The project has been completely thought out, sized, laid out, and co-ordinated in detail by the lead team.

China’s North West Design Institute and Chinese Architectural Design Institute have been on the team from the beginning, and are taking the project through construction documents and the construction phase.

A general contractor will be selected for the construction that follows the technical documents.

Doing it this way is currently not typical in the US and, while it’s not unusual to have planners and architects teamed during both phases, the fact that projects still get completed in these phases is the shortcoming.

Instead of separating between planning and architecture, or even planning and design/build, it simply works better when the phases are separated between decision-making and execution. There is a better way.

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