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'An airport that is fun, with lots of light, great views and a high degree of clarity': this was Richard Rogers' vision of the new terminal at Madrid's Barajas airport, which -nally opened to the travelling public in February. It is a vision that has been realised to a remarkable degree in the completed building. The New Area Terminal, as it's formally known, was the subject of a competition 10 years ago, won by a consortium that included not only Richard Rogers Partnership (RRP) but also leading Spanish architectural practice Estudio Lamela (usually credited with the authorship of the scheme in the Spanish media), specialist engineering consultant INITEC and Tarmac Professional Services (TPS). The terminal - construction, of which began in 2000 and was in effect completed in little more than four years - occupies a site 2km to the northwest of the old terminal complex (the third terminal there opened in 1977), anked by two new runways, and is intended to consolidate Madrid's position as a major European and intercontinental hub and the focal connection between Europe and Latin America. The buildings, providing for up to 70 million passengers annually, account for only a third of the total cost of the Barajas expansion, which includes the runways and new road and rail links.

For a project of this scale and complexity - the terminal and the satellite building (connected by an automated transit system, with provision for a second satellite in the long-term future) and associated structures contain a total of 1.2 million m 2 of accommodation - 10 years from competition to opening seems quite an achievement. Rogers' other great airport project, Terminal Five Heathrow, still has several years to run but was won in competition as long ago as 1989. Moreover, Terminal Five has been the subject of several redesigns in the last decade, while the Madrid terminal, as completed, retains most of the distinctive features of the competition scheme. The sheer impetus behind the project, according to RRP's project director Simon Smithson, ruled out radical rethinks - all construction drawings had to be done in -ve months, for example.

Airport design over the last couple of decades (during which time there has been phenomenal growth in passenger numbers) has been characterised by the quest for clarity and legibility - Foster and Partners' Stansted was an inuential model in this respect, though its single-level diagram proved impractical for larger terminals, including the same practice's Chek Lap Kok.

The original competition scheme for Terminal Five.

developed with the late Peter Rice of Arup, included a 'magic carpet' roof rising high over the main public spaces and swooping low at the perimeter of the building. The roof at Barajas, a repeating sequence of waves formed by great wings of prefabricated steel, supported on slender concrete 'trees' (which carry well-integrated lighting and public-address systems), draws on the Heathrow proposals, though the structural engineering input to the Madrid project came from Anthony Hunt Associates, a practice that worked with Rogers back in the 1960s. The roof, kept free of all services, covers a series of three parallel bars of accommodation that mark the various stages in transit through the airport from point of arrival; through check-in and passport/ security controls to departure lounges and finally to the aircraft.

The boarding pier that forms the third of the bars is an awesome 1.2km long, with 38 stands for aircraft. The bars are separated by 'canyons' - full-height spaces spanned by bridges that act as directional markers for arriving and departing passengers (who are separated vertically) and as sources of natural light, which is channelled into every level of the building. The integration of the railway station, which benefits from the daylighting strategy, is particularly impressive - it is integral to the terminal, not an adjunct. A huge multi-storey car-park next to the terminal provides 9,000 parking spaces.

The Barajas project was undertaken by AENA, the public agency that runs Spain's major airports, and is seen as a prestigious national undertaking. Even so, Barajas is subject to the same commercial pressures as those that have reshaped (and in some respects weakened) the Terminal Five proposals. The canyons have proved extremely useful in accommodating rather more retail space than was contemplated at the time of the 1996 competition, without compromising the original concept. The clear progression of spaces inside the terminal provides a stark contrast to the blank corridors that confront those arriving at airports of an earlier generation. Air terminals cannot be naturally ventilated - and Madrid has perhaps the most intemperate climate of any European capital - but the skilful use of natural light, as well as ample shading, has reduced the energy demands of the terminal - a low-energy displacement ventilation system suffices in the pier area, with a more conventional air-conditioning system installed elsewhere.

The roof is the defining feature of the completed terminal, a really grand structure that combines monumentality with lightweight elegance and which floats across the internal spaces. The design of the glazed facade was the subject of intense debate and technical study - it hangs from the roof on a series of tensioned 'kipper' trusses with high-performance 36mm glass fixed on stainless-steel rods. Vertical support members are avoided and the whole facade has a sleek and seamless look that is fundamental to the aesthetics of the scheme. External shading consists of panels of steel tubes designed to baffle solar gain without obscuring views out. Internally, the use of laminated strips of bamboo, a readily renewable material, as a lining material unifies the spaces. It provides the desired smooth and sensuous finish; is acoustically benign; and has a natural warmth that adds to the sense of texture and integrity generated equally by the use of natural stone rather than carpet as a flooring material (the Spanish client does not share BAA's preoccupation with carpet). Below ground, in the areas containing baggage-handling facilities and services, some of them 20m deep, where the public does not generally penetrate, the structure takes on an altogether more heavyweight character;

that of a massive concrete base on which a lightweight glass and metal pavilion sits.

The use of modular construction, on an 18m x 9m structural grid, was fundamental to the project, allowing the demanding construction schedule to be met: this is a building put together, at least above ground level, with prefabricated components in the tradition of the Pompidou Centre and the Millennium Dome. There is a tension in Rogers' work between the highly exible and the extendable - Pompidou and a number of early works - and the monumental object (the Lloyd's Building and Channel 4). Barajas certainly falls into the former category - it's a exible, potentially extendable - in theory - shed in the great tradition of RRP, and a Rogers building to the core (though the collaboration with Estudio Lamela was both cordial and productive, a real partnership). The nature of the project, as an assembly of components, can be read in the -nished building.

And for all its scale, the new terminal (and the 300,000m 2 satellite, a structure in a similar vein) is remarkably legible - its structural and operational agenda can be readily understood. The use of strong colour is hardly novel to Richard Rogers' architecture - it was a feature of his work four decades ago - but the kaleidoscope of colours applied to the structural columns in the main pier at Barajas is something of a departure, strongly backed by Rogers but not to the taste of some members of the project team. Against the odds it works, introducing an element of levity into the serious business of air travel.

Barajas reects a movement towards the expressive and shapely, the light and the uid, in the work of RRP which has gained momentum in recent years, too often in unrealised projects.

Perhaps the most dramatic of these was the 2004 competition scheme, designed with Arup, for the second terminal at Shanghai Pudong airport, where the wave roof idea seen in the -rst scheme for Terminal Five and at Barajas was carried to new extremes.

In the end, Rogers lost out to the Americans, following a visit to China by US vice-president Dick Cheney, but the project remains one of RRP's great 'unbuilts'. Where the Shanghai terminal was designed as a consciously iconic landmark, the Barajas terminal, for all its structural exuberance, remains a fundamentally rational and highly practical building, in which terms such as 'loose -t' and 'kit of parts' that were commonly applied to classic High-Tech architecture gain a new currency. It is too soon to critically judge user reaction to the building, though the old terminal complex at Barajas was a conspicuously shabby point of entry to a European capital city. The impression so far is that the new terminal is convenient, enjoyable and inspirational. Spain is a country with a dynamic architectural culture of its own, yet no Spanish practice could have come up with the goods on this project. Conversely, the Madrid project has fed back into Terminal Five, though BAA -rmly rejected the idea of naturally lit 'canyons'. As a major work of British architecture and an excellent example of European collaboration, Barajas is a winner - and a dead cert, hopefully, for the Stirling Prize shortlist.

Credits Built area Terminal 470,000 2Car park 309,000 m 2Access roads 64,000 m 2Total 1,100,000m Tender date 1997 Design stage 1998-1999 Construction 2000-2005 Airport open 2006 Full operation 2010 Client AENA (Aeropuertos Españoles y Navegación Aérea) Architect Estudio Lamela and Richard Rogers Partnership Structural engineer INITEC and Tarmac Professional Services Construction manager AENA Structure OTEP, HCA, AHA Services INITEC, TPS External collaborating firms Main structure design Anthony Hunt; structural engineering OTEP Internacional, HCA; main facade design ARUP Facades; -re engineering Warrington Fire Research; quantity surveyor Hanscomb y Gabinete de Ingeniería; acoustics consultant Sandy Brown; lighting consultant Jonathan Speirs; natural lighting consultant Ove Arup, Biosca & Botey; Landscape consultant dosAdos; Models 3DD, J Queipo Contractors Terminal JV Ferrovial, FCC, ACS, NECSO, SACYR; satellite Dragados, OHL; car park Dragados

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