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Terminal 3, Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport, China

Issue 79 June / July 2014 : Architecture : Airport

Architect: STUDIO FUKSAS Lighting Design: SPEIRS + MAJOR

Alongside architects Studio Fuksas, Speirs + Major developed the lighting concept to transform the roof of Shenzhen’s new airport terminal into a three dimensional lantern with functional light concealed from view.

Shenzhen is the fastest growing city in one of the fastest growing countries in the world. In need of a new terminal to cope with increasing demand at its airport, a design competition was held. In October 2008, winners Studio Fuksas were tasked with the challenge of creating a new 24-hour travel hub that would handle the projected 45 million passengers per year.

Speirs + Major, backed by an ever-growing pedigree in lighting for aviation projects, were approached to design the light for the public areas. Their focus lay in creating the right balance between the pragmatic – light that aids the passenger journey to and from road to air – and the spectacular - revealing the form and enhancing the image of the iconic design.

Following a remarkably rapid  three year construction phase, the stunning new terminal opened in November 2013. Appearing to hover in its lagoon setting, the building features a unique undulating double skin roof wrapped around the 1.5km long building, punctuated by thousands of hexagonal shaped skylights. These skylights allow for natural daylight to filter through into the entire terminal, creating a myriad of patterns of light and shadow that animate the interior surfaces. The honeycomb motif used in the roof is repeated internally on surfaces, with the lighting effect enhanced by a largely white and reflective stainless steel palette.

The lighting design of the interior is as carefully considered as the exterior is innovative, reflecting a deep understanding of the journey that travelers make coming to and from the airport. The balance of movement and pause, speedy processing times, minimal walking distances and clear orientation are all essential elements to a successful and enjoyable passenger experience. With the airport constantly in operation, the design of the lighting required consideration of all these elements over a complete 24-hour cycle, balancing the natural and artificial lighting conditions to best effect.

Throughout the project, Speirs + Major maintained close coordination with the design architect and local delivery teams to develop the details. It is this level of attention that has resulted in lighting that is so fully integrated into the architecture it appears to be effortless. Most importantly, there is no triumph of style over substance here – for while it certainly ticks the box marked spectacular, the lighting also fully fulfils its functional brief to support the passenger experience.

Keith Bradshaw, Principal, explains: “The remote delivery of a 500,000sqm high quality project will always present a challenge – for which skill, determination and strong design principles and process are pre-requisites. In approaching the project, we made the conscious decision to rationalise our ideas into five key principles that would guide the development of the design and simplify its execution. Details were deliberately kept pragmatic to allow for local market re-specification without impacting on the design.”

Paper Lantern Effect
As well as housing the lighting fixtures for the concourse the void between the two skins of the roof has been made a feature in its own right. The void is internally lit creating a ‘paper lantern effect’ that both lifts and frames the space at night.

Variable Lighting to Concourse
The beauty of the variable light levels created on the concourse by the natural light from the skylights has been deliberately echoed in the design of the artificial lighting, smoothing the day to night transition. Break up light is created from fixtures concealed in the roof void in line with the undulations in the form. Extra care was taken that the lighting would not create any unwanted distracting effects. As Bradshaw elaborates, “It was really important to us to understand how passengers would perceive the light, and to that end we made several studies to assess the effects of light distraction and uniformity. The lighting is deliberately tailed off at the windows and glass walls to preserve views out.”

Floating Lagoon
The iconic nature of the building demanded lighting that would contribute to a strong identity after dark. Building on the ‘Manta Ray’ analogy that Studio Fuksas employed in their concept design, Speirs + Major proposed a saturated wash of pale cyan light at apron level and under the building to create the sensation that the building was floating on a lagoon. The cyan wash is also used on the air bridges, to form a homogeneous visual a link between the plane and the terminal.

Highlight to ‘Pause’ and ‘Orientation’ features
In order to aid wayfinding and improve legibility of the space, key orientation features, and places where people make stops on their journeys such as the gates, furniture, and gate signage are highlighted with intensities of light. These clear and well-defined zones allow passengers to understand quickly how such a large space works and how it relates to their individual journey plans. Softer lighting treatments are used at waiting zones, and a luxury experience in the WCs adds comfort to the passenger experience and creates calm spaces to rest on the journey through the airport. The amount of light on the perimeter faces of the concourse was studied to improve views out to the apron level beyond, thereby increasing the visual connection between the airport interior and exterior zones.

The lighting ‘looks’ associated with an all-day lighting experience are very important. At the earliest stages of the lighting design process the impression created by natural and artificial lighting was carefully considered, balancing the image and energy use at all times of the day. The latitude of Shenzhen means that the natural light circle is quite consistent throughout the year, but the quality of the light changes with the humidity of the seasons. In this case daylight sensors override timed programs to select the most suitable lighting ‘look’.

There is no doubting the extraordinary nature of the building’s shape and form. The bold confident architecture symbolises the ambitions of Shenzhen better than any other civic building in the city. The lit image and function of the building is equally extraordinary, bold and confident. Concealed architectural light balanced with human scale light interventions create a visually exceptional but extremely functional lit environment. The lit image does not dominate function, but neither is the opposite the case - as can be found in many world-class airports. The careful use of energy, the selective use of architectural lighting and the determination to deliver elegant yet simple lighting details creates a very successful lit project worthy of the building and ambition of the City of Shenzhen.


Terminal 3, Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport, China
Client: Shenzhen Airport (Group)
Architect: Studio Fuksas
Architect of Record: Beijing Institute of Architectural Design
Lighting Design: Speirs + Major


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