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AIA 2013: America's Next Aviation Frontier

By David Hill
June 21, 2013
Image by HDR and Luis Vidal + Architects

Spanish architect Luis Vidal, principal of Madrid-based Luis Vidal + Architects, is just 44, but he’s already become one of the world’s top airport designers, with major projects in Spain (Madrid, Pamplona, Murcia, Reus, and other cities) and Poland (Warsaw). His current aviation project is the new T2 terminal at London’s Heathrow, scheduled to open in 2014. Although Vidal spends several weeks each year in San Francisco, he’s never done a project in the United States. But that could change. And no, he’s not designing a new U.S. airport. For now, at least, he’s leapfrogged past that to design a concept for a spaceport. Vidal is working with the American engineering and architecture firm HDR to design a spaceport at a tiny Colorado facility, Front Range Airport, about six miles from Denver International Airport.

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Backers hope the spaceport will become a global hub for space travel and research. The project has the support of Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, who earlier this year said, “A spaceport [allows] us to conceive of flying to Australia in a couple of hours.” Provided, of course, there’s another spaceport in Australia.

Vidal discussed his airports and ideas for the Colorado spaceport at the Denver meeting of the Royal Institute of British Architects USA, which ran concurrently with the AIA convention. In may ways, he said, spaceports won’t be that much different from airports. People will arrive, check in, go through security, get on the aircraft—the usual steps involved in air travel. But he expects a huge demand for scientific research in zero-gravity conditions, so any spaceport will need facilities to accommodate that. And remember when people used to go to airports just to see planes take off and land? Vidal expects that to happen again with spaceports, so large observation areas will need to part of any design.

Vidal’s conceptual design for the spaceport resembles a large plane with wings and a bulbous tail, which appears to be the entrance to the complex. “We feel that we’re breaking new ground for a building type,” Vidal said.

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