The Starfish has landed: Beijing’s new international airport

Bejing Daxing International Airport opened in 2019 as the world’s largest single building airport terminal.  Its Starfish form has captured people’s imagination. It is expected to handle 72 million passengers per year by 2025.  This airport is a fitting tribute to the legacy of architect Zaha Hadid, who died almost five years ago at the age of 66. 

A tribute to Architect Zaha Hadid

This airport is a fitting tribute to architect Zaha Hadid who died on March 31, 2016, almost five years ago, at the age of 66.  Born in Baghdad, Iraq, she studied mathematics and architecture. She liberated modern architecture from its rectilinear geometry to imaginative and breathtaking curves. She was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize and the first woman to be individually awarded the RIBA Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Getting there

The new airport is known as the Beijing Daxing International Airport.  It is connected via mass transit with the city center as well as the Bejing International Airport.  The new airport is designed to handle 72 million passengers by 2025, and 100 million passengers by 2040. When I visited Beijing several years ago, the second airport was still under construction. It is time for me to plan another visit! 

The starfish has landed

The starfish configuration has a total of six legs. Five legs serve as arrival and departure wings. The sixth leg connects the airport to the mass transit system and airport services. The legs meet at the center which acts as a HUB. The HUB provides a sense of orientation to passengers as they navigate between different legs. The roof over the airport structure mimics the natural form of a starfish with giant skylights acting as eyes. The roof allows ample sunlight and could only have been made possible with the help of computer-based design and construction technologies. 

West Rainbow Bridge
West Rainbow Bridge 1

Parametric design

In the age of parametric design and computer-based manufacturing, mega projects such as the Starfish and the Balna in Budapest move from conceptual design to construction in record time.  The starfish was constructed in five years. It demonstrates that one can visualize a complex form and have it constructed quickly unlike at any time in the past.  Although the design of this airport responds to the spirit of our time, it also points to several weaknesses. For example, its form has very little connection to the local culture or place. It could be transported to any location and would function just as well.

Interior of the Daxing International Airport
Interior of the Daxing International Airport 2

Growth and change over time

Now that the Starfish has landed and is operational, we can think about its future. Would it face similar fate as some of the world’s busiest airports? Many of these airports tend to be in a perpetual state of construction. The construction activity in most cases stems from increased demand for space and higher customer expectations.  How would the new airport respond to future demands for more space? How would a finite form such as a starfish handle change over time?  Would it simply reach its capacity one day and then require additional airports at other locations? 

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