BIG and HOK Win Zurich Airport Competition

John Hill
15. June 2022
Image courtesy of BIG

The two-stage competition to replace the aging Dock A started in 2020, the same year that Flughafen Zürich (ZRH) opened The Circle, a ten-years-in-the-making complex designed by Japanese architect Riken Yamamoto with offices, conference center, shops, restaurants, and bars in a huge 200,000 m2 (2.15 million sf) eleven-story building next to a new park. Similarly, the new Dock A is expected to take ten years to complete, eventually opening with Schengen and Non-Schengen gates, airside retail, lounges, offices, a new air traffic control tower, and an extension of the immigration hall.

The new Dock A will be built alongside the existing Dock A, with the latter remaining in service during construction. (Image courtesy of BIG)

The team of BIG, HOK, 10:8 architects, engineer Buro Happold, timber experts Pirmin Jung and aviation consultant NACO was selected by an eleven-member jury in the two-stage competition; other proposals came from Foster + Partners, Grimshaw Architects, and SOM, among others. The BIG team's proposal, titled "Raumfachwerk" (space framework), was described as "the most convincing [entry] from a sustainable, operational, and economic point of view," according to Andreas Schmid, chairman of the board of directors of Flughafen Zürich AG, "but also from an urban planning and architectural point of view."

The central hub, organized about a seven-story atrium, will have shopping, airport services for arriving and departing passengers, and vertical circulation. (Image courtesy of BIG)
"The name says it all: Space and structure get fully integrated and result in a highly functional and flexible design. The backbone of the project is formed by a structure that is not just load bearing, but defines and adapts the space, creates a unique atmosphere, and provides a distinctive identity true to its place and era. This project marks not only a new milestone for Zurich Airport but for the entire aviation. The jury was delighted and grateful to endorse such a groundbreaking project that will help to revive sustainable wood construction for great infrastructural projects."

Harry Gugger, chairman of the jury

Extending from the central hub will be the pier, with gates, waiting areas, and the fixed links connecting to the planes. (Image courtesy of BIG)

In a press release, BIG founder Bjarke Ingels described contemporary airports as "Frankensteins of interconnected elements, patches and extensions." In turn, the firm's design takes "the simplest possible response: a mass timber space frame that is structural design, spatial experience, architectural finish, and organizational principle in one." Topped by solar panels, the terminal made from locally sourced timber is an attempt "to meet the complex global challenge of Co2 reduction."

In addition to their structural role, BIG contends the V-shaped timber columns are meant to serve "as a reference [to] both the iconic Swiss alpine landscapes and the centuries-old tradition of timber construction and traditional pitched roofs." (Image courtesy of BIG)

Although its narration is in German, a short film from Flughafen Zürich helpfully puts Dock A in the context of the larger Zurich Airport and illustrates the different parts of the winning design:

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