Edge of Innovation

Mexico builds the airport of the future

André Vatter Writer

Mexico City is bursting at the seams. According to recent figures, approximately nine million inhabitants live in the capital and almost twenty million are estimated to live in the entire metropolitan area. Mexico’s capital city is regarded as the gateway to Central America and is often passed through by people travelling to North and South America.

The existing airport, which opened in 1952, is old now and groans under the weight of 21st-century tourism. The terminals are too small, internal walkways too long and a construction error means that the two existing runways are too close to one another to operate simultaneously.

Some time ago, the government and municipality decided to modernize and expand the airport, but there were constant delays. A compromise was eventually reached after many discussions and concessions, and a fantastic initial design of the airport was produced. Why “fantastic”? Mexico has commissioned none other than star architect Norman Foster (who designed the Reichstag dome in Berlin and the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt, to name just two of his achievements) to design the new airport — and he has truly excelled.

The Enterprise has landed

It’s not only the design that has been perfected, but the airport’s future environmental performance too

With approximately 555,000 square meters of floor space and six runways, the airport is set to be one of the largest in the world, capable of handling 120 million passengers per year instead of the current 30 million. Essentially, the only materials that will be used in the construction of the airport are glass, steel and air. The gigantic, X-shaped roof is translucent and slightly reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise when viewed from above. The airport is intended to have just a single terminal, with walkways that are so intelligently interwoven that an internal transport system would be superfluous.

And it’s not only the design that has been perfected, but the airport’s future environmental performance too. The open structure of the building means that there will be no need for air conditioning during the dry, Mexican summer heat and hardly any additional heating will be required in winter. The roof is equipped with solar cells  and controls the interior light exposure so that there will be virtually no need for any other light sources. Have I already mentioned that the entire span of the roof even collects rain for the airport’s water supply?

One billion euro cheaper than Berlin Brandenburg Airport

“Nothing in the entire world compares”

The airport sounds like a dream — and it is! Construction will take approximately fifty (!) years to complete but the first flights should be able to take off by 2026. According to previous estimates, the project will cost around seven billion euro, but this is mere peanuts by German standards because, while tourists, structural engineers and taxpayers continue to look on in despair in Berlin, the construction costs for the city’s airport have, to date, risen to around eight billion euro.

Whether the resulting airport in the German capital will look as impressive remains to be seen, although Norman Foster already has his answer when it comes to the competition: “Passengers’ experience will be unique! Mexico has shown real initiative by investing in the national airport; it shows that the country has recognized the social and economic importance of the project and is planning for the future. Nothing in the entire world compares.”

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