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Why we should recycle our airports

Foster + Partner’s proposal for Heathrow Terminal 2 ignores the possibility of the zero-carbon airport, says Hayley Chivers

Yesterday’s closure of Heathrow’s Terminal 2 and its now-imminent demolition has gone relatively unnoticed by the architectural community.

It is clear somethings needs to be done at Terminal 2: the existing terminal was designed to accommodate 1.2 million passengers per year and now regularly deals with 8 million. The issue also lacks the Schadenfreude of Terminal 5’s teething problems or the political drama of the third runway battle.

Yet we should ask why airport planners continue to wipe out the old buildings and replace them with entirely new structures - in this case one costing £1bn. This approach would raise eyebrows if copied in hospital complexes, military compounds or train stations.

Colin Matthews, British Airports Authority (BAA) chief executive insists that the replacement terminal will have ‘less impact on the environment’ because it will produce 40 per cent less carbon than the existing building. Although noble, this dodges the question of how much carbon will be produced by constructing the new buildings - and just how much could be saved by re-fitting and expanding the old one. Can a new build’s eco-credentials really outweigh the environmental impact of its predecessor’s demolition and replacement?

It seems contradictory for a government who has introduced astonishingly high sustainability targets - such as all public buildings built from 2016 to be zero-carbon - to endorse such a development. Developers of eco-projects in other sectors - notably residential and offices - may feel undermined by the carbon heavy manoeuvrings of a carbon heavy industry.

Airports have the autonomy and space to implement wind and solar power schemes

Incorporating structural elements or waste material from the existing building could reduce the ground works and overall waste of the development. Aviation will have to get its own house in order, but architecture can help create the zero-carbon airport once the planes are on the ground. Airports have the autonomy and space to implement wind and solar power schemes - and might in future harness the kinetic energy of planes.

It is understandable that the airports need to keep one step ahead of competitors by being ‘cutting edge’, with beautiful precedents such as Rogers’ Stirling Prize wining Barajas Airport in Madrid, Foster’s Beijing Airport and Piano’s Kansai Airport in Japan. Maybe it is time that ‘cutting edge’ means the zero-carbon airport, built in a sustainable way as an example to the rest of the world of what can be achieved elegantly with existing structure and existing space.

BAA claims the newly envisaged terminal is intended to ‘rival’ Heathrow’s own Terminal 5. If Terminal 2 lives up to the hype, perhaps Richard Rogers will be commissioned to re-built terminal 5 in a new streamlined form, to more efficiently cope with the diminished number of visitors.

  • Hayley Chivers is a graduate of Bath University’s department of Architecture

Readers' comments (2)

  • is this from the architect who gave us stanstead ?

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Dear Anonymous
    Can you please elaborate on your comment a little bit.
    To answer your question, the new Heathrow is indeed by the same architect who gave us Stanstead, which in it's day completely revolutionised the way the airports are designed and consequently operated. The Stanstead diagram was copied ad nauseam in countless occasions around the world, to the betterment of the airport experience of the millions upon millions of users.
    Your sarcasm is completely lost on me.

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