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Beijing International Terminal, Beijing, China

Issue 44 Aug / Sep 2008 : Architectural : Transport


Speirs and Major Associates has once again completed a scheme for a high profile airport terminal. This time the Foster and Partners designed Beijing international, the largest airport building in the world. one of the lighting design team, Claudia Clements, takes us through the scheme.

Beijing’s new international terminal is the world’s largest and most advanced airport. The terminal building and Ground Transportation Centre enclose a floor area of 1.3 million square metres and will accommodate an estimated 50 million passengers per annum by 2020.

The length from north to south is three and a quarter kilometres and connections between the terminal buildings take place on a high-speed automated people mover (APM) which travels at up to 80kmph, with a journey time of just two minutes. The building’s dragon-like form is crowned by a soaring aerodynamic roof that evokes images of traditional Chinese colours and symbols. The challenges of the design combined with the speed of the program (designed and built in just four years) necessitated a systematic and elemental approach to meeting the operational requirements, the wish to enhance the passenger experience, to reveal and enhance the architecture and to provide a practical sustainable solution.

Speirs and Major Associates were appointed in late 2004 to work as a consultant to the competition winning joint venture partnership between Foster and Partners, ARUP (engineers) and NACO (aviation design and operations). The fast track programme required us to develop an overall lighting concept within three months, to present that to the main client in Beijing and then convert our ideas into sufficient technical information to provide a detailed brief to the local engineers who were to work up the final detailed solution.

It was here that our experience of handling large airport projects, including Terminal 5 Heathrow and Barajas Madrid, alongside our established working relationship with Foster and Partners, paid dividends. We were able to quickly disseminate the brief, ask the right questions and provide a strong strategic approach that could be agreed by all parties in record time. Once approved, the strategy then converted relatively easily into a detailed concept and scheme design.
Areas covered within the brief included the wider landscape, GTC (Ground Transportation Centre), drop off forecourt, terminal building and APM (Automated People Mover)

The approach to the lighting design of the Terminal Building consists of three lighting components that form a common language throughout the building and are combined within each area to provide a specific lighting design solution. These components include a ‘General Lighting System’ which delivers the majority of the functional lighting to the terminal buildings, ‘Common Circulation’ lighting which helps with the routing of passenger around the development and the ‘Fit-Out’ lighting which brings accent, colour, drama and meets the requirements for task illumination to key areas such as gate seating and check-in desks.

The General Lighting System is a high level lighting system integrated above the slats of the roof. It provides illumination to the principle volumes under the main roof, feature lighting to the roof and structure and lighting to areas beneath public ceilings and bridge soffits. All roof lighting is mounted to high-level lighting gantries that provide easy access for maintenance. 3000°K warm white ceramic metal halide sources are utilised throughout.

General functional lighting to the open concourse is provided using a paired arrangement of bracket mounted can downlights. These produce a rhythm of light and create sparkle in the polished granite floor. Where higher levels of illumination are required, such as check-in islands and gate seating areas, this is achieved from additional spotlighting. The lighting arrangement is flexible to accommodate future change in requirements.

The single most striking feature within the airport is the elegant sweeping roof. The lighting concept, as originally developed by Foster and Partners as part of the competition design, provides for a glowing roof, the colour cast changing from red to yellow as passengers progress through the length of the building. By day this is achieved by natural light that enters the building through south-east oriented linear skylights. After dark the artificial lighting takes over to create a dramatically lit textural roofscape. This is achieved using planar floodlights employing low wattage metal halide lamps which uplight the internal structure and volume of the roof. The view through the slats of the lit painted roofspace gives the appearance of a glowing roof. The area surrounding the rooflights has a more intense glow to provide further emphasis and texture of the roof. Lighting to the internal structural columns helps to articulate the volume of space and provide verticality.

There was a great deal of concern to deliver the most energy efficient solution possible whilst at the same time meeting the project requirements. The mix of highly efficient direct lighting combined with a low wattage indirect solution to create the effect to the roof was calculated to be more efficient than an overall indirect solution that had been considered.

The strategy for external and internal public ceilings was developed according to their generic type and applied throughout the building. The lighting from external concrete coffers utilises a direct downlighting system with no uplighting to the coffers. This is achieved using surface mounted can downlights recessed into concrete. Internal public coffers utilise a direct/indirect downlighting system that is integrated into the suspended slat ceiling system. The luminaire reflectors have a partially matt finish in order to provide even illumination to the exposed concrete downstands. For the public areas with suspended ceilings, the lighting is set out in a simple grid with recessed downlights. Dedicated lighting to solid partitions defines spatial boundaries and visually enhances spaces. Levels of light beneath bridges are higher in order to make these areas feel inviting.

Across the project are common circulation design elements that include horizontal and vertical circulation and fixed link bridges. These are lit in a consistent manner using warm white sources.

Scenic lifts are lit to minimise reflections in the glazing and promote views out. The concept allowed for feature lighting to the underside of the lift car visible through the glazed lift shaft. Safe and efficient lighting to escalators and travelators is provided from low level. 3000°K warm white cold cathode sources are integrated into the kicker plates and mounted behind a prismatic diffuser to optimise distribution across the treads.

A limited number of fit-out elements such as desks have lighting integrated to provide functional lighting and local human scale lighting. Task lighting is integrated within the desks to support the functional lighting provided by the General Lighting System. This includes undercounter lighting.

The external lighting covered not only the overall image of the buildings but also the road system and extensive landscaped areas. An emphasis was placed on minimising the potential environmental impact whilst at the same time creating an iconic image for the scheme particularly when seen from the approach roads and the air.

Generic solutions were employed for the highway lighting where, rather than reinvent the wheel, the effort went into introducing best practice including the use of full cut off lanterns, minimising glare, reducing levels of illuminance to safe but appropriate standards and maintaining a human scale close to the buildings.

The decision was made to only express the formal landscape surrounding the GTC. The lighting scheme for the extensive garden which floats above the main car parking was originally seen as having the potential to create a massive ‘screen’ that would be visible from the air but was pulled back to a more direct and subtle landscape lighting solution in which trees and water features were to be softly and directly illuminated.

Despite the robust elemental approach to the scheme there are always exceptions to the rule and the GTC building required a specific lighting solution to be designed that was highly atypical when compared to the rest of the project. Lighting to the GTC concourse and platforms is primarily from high level and integrated within the structural beams. Three gimbal downlight arrangements that utilise 3000°K warm white ceramic metal halide sources are recessed into the structure. The high level lighting is then supported by low level functional and feature lighting that is essential to provide a human scale element. Lighting to structural elements helps to define the form of the building.

The track transit system that runs the full length of the terminal was to be simply and directly illuminated through a combined functional and landscape lighting scheme. It aimed to create sufficient light not only for operational purposes but to make the overall journey an interesting experience after dark but creating lighting local to the stations that would be sufficient to appreciate the surroundings.

The lighting scheme itself was presented to the client in partnership with Foster and Partners, ARUP and NACO with the view to clearly communicate the lighting intent to the local project team. This resulted in a number of interesting and often lengthy presentations – the timescales being greatly extended by the need for translation due to the lighting consultants’ lack of mastery of the Chinese language. Despite such hurdles good progress was made such that a clear sign off for the principles of the design allowed the UK based design team to work up the final more detailed design solutions which included typical lighting layouts, calculations, control strategy and a schedule of European luminaires which were to act as the ‘benchmark’ for the specification of product to be sourced in China. Much emphasis was put on the need to maintain quality, observe the detail of the photometric information and to avoid any reduction in the scope of the design such that the integrity of the overall solution was compromised. Once the documentation was complete it was then handed over to the local project team who were fully briefed.

It was clear that the design was largely being followed through in a manner that was faithful to the design intent and as a result the final solution goes a long way to realising the original vision.

All this proved to the team at Speirs and Major Associates that despite the challenges of working quickly and at a distance it was entirely possible to provide a classy solution to a world class terminal designed by the UK’s top architectural and engineering practices which befits its role as the gateway to China for the 2008 Olympic Games.


Beijing Airport

Around 70,000 Thorn China luminaires were supplied for the terminal and its associated Ground Traffic Centre. For such a vast space the lighting plan had to serve a dual purpose: not only provide sufficient illumination for the task, but be free of glare, thereby lessening eye fatigue and strain; and increasing staff performance and motivation

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