Foster + Partners’ airport in the Jordanian desert uses local materials and Islamic motifs, but surprises arriving passengers with lush greenery
Foster + Partners has created a distinctive airport in Amman, Jordan, that is intended to be “a symbol for the country’s front door”. The Queen Alia International Airport differs from the firm’s previous airports – Stansted, Hong Kong, Beijing – in that it uses express concrete, rather than steel, throughout the building, including the roof. “The concrete is the biggest link to Jordan, because it’s made in Jordan, made of local sand and local aggregate, and made of cement that is procured locally,” explains Jonathan Parr, partner and project architect.
The untreated material is a warm beige colour, rather than the usual cold grey, which glows in the early morning and late afternoon light. “It’s a desert site and the city of Amman is elevated above sea level, so there’s quite a strong diurnal range,” Parr adds. “The concrete protects the building during the heat of the day and it stores and gives off some of this heat during the cold nights.”
The tessellated, vaulted, double-skinned roof also helps to cool the building; it has a guarding layer of thin metal on the exterior, the dark colour echoing that of Bedouin tents, with a ventilated cavity beneath. “It’s a protective shell, almost like a beetle, the hard thing that protects the soft underbody,” Parr says.
Inside the departure floor, supporting columns rise up like desert palms, the light flooding in through frond-shaped gaps at the column junctions. A geometric pattern is created on the exposed soffits by applying parallel strips of aluminium to the underside of the roof shells, acting as an acoustic diffuser. Running alongside the bulk of the main terminal, whose glazed walls are sheltered by overhanging canopies, are 6m-wide strips of water that serve to reflect light into the 120m-wide baggage hall on the arrivals floor below.
The terminal was built around an existing one, and these constraints contributed to the claw-like spatial arrangement of the two wings housing the gates (these will be extended to twice their length when the original structure is demolished). “Between the building and the piers, spaces were created and we thought it would be a lovely idea if, when you arrived in an airport in the desert, one of the first things you see is a garden,” says Parr. “It’s not something you would normally expect to see”. The architects imagined passengers walking through these verdant oases as they made their way to the planes.
Foster + Partners is building other airports in Kuwait and Panama, and has proposed plans for a hub in the Thames estuary. It is also bidding to build a terminal for domestic flights in Beijing, which will be as big as the 10.6 million sq ft one that the practice built for the Olympics in 2008.
Images: Foster + Partners