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Kohn Pedersen Fox Tapped for Abu Dhabi Airport Expansion

July 14, 2008

By Tim McKeough

Abu Dhabi, much like its neighbor to the northeast, Dubai, has been expanding at breakneck speed. Now its airport is set to grow significantly larger with a new facility: the 5.9-million-square-foot Midfield Terminal Complex designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects. “It’s one of the projects, along with a handful of others, that the country is using to symbolize its emerging place in the world in the 21st century,” explains KPF president Lee Polisano.

Abu Dhabi Airport

Image courtesy Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects

Abu Dhabi’s airport is set to grow significantly larger with a new facility: the 5.9-million-square-foot Midfield Terminal Complex designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Architect.

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The $6.8 billion project is expected to allow the Abu Dhabi International Airport to handle up to 30 million passengers per year—a significant increase over its current capacity of 8 million. Construction is underway and should be finished by 2012.

This is only the first phase of a grander scheme; the emirate aims to increase capacity to 60 million by adding a satellite terminal, although that project is at least 15 years away, Polisano says.

From the air, the new terminal resembles a gently curved X. “The genesis for the design comes from an understanding of the placement of the terminal and the two runways,” says Polisano. “It generates a form that allows for a maximum number of airplanes to actually park at the terminal—47 of them.” 

The design is also meant to respond to Abu Dhabi’s urban planning scheme, which emphasizes green space. The terminal rises from the desert floor like a sand dune, and wraps around verdant landscaping and a pond near the building’s entrance. Inside, a 49-foot-high hall welcomes visitors, followed by a series of repeating steel arches that guides people through check-in and security, and then to a large public garden where they await flights.

KPF designed the Midfield Terminal Complex with parametric modeling software, such as Bentley’s GenerativeComponents. The firm has used computational tools for other recent projects, like The Pinnacle, a 63-story glass tower under construction in London. “The optimization is phenomenal,” says Polisano. “It gives us a huge analytical advantage. We actually know the size of each panel on the roof and the tolerances, and every little bit of the model can be distilled.”

The Midfield Terminal Complex is KPF’s second commission in the emirate. It also designed the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority Headquarters, completed in 2006.

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