T5: The Concept

Posted: 28 March 2008 | Mike Davies CBE, Project Director T5 | No comments yet

An interview with Mike Davies CBE, Project Director T5.

An interview with Mike Davies CBE, Project Director T5.

What initial criteria was requested for the T5 concept?

The initial start to the process was in fact an international competition. We entered the competition, won and were selected by BAA. The competition posed a 30 million passenger, brand new terminal, with a minimum of 50 new pier served stands, with an efficient layout to reduce taxi times for aircraft. The basic intent was to provide new and improved passenger facilities at Heathrow, rather than extra runway capacity. This was very much to do with people and terminals, rather than runway modification as we were not modifying the runways at all.

Were there any particular milestones achieved during the T5 design concept?

The T5 design concept has gone through four phases, as you’re aware, but I think the early milestone was the adoption of what’s called the toast rack concept. The toast rack is the beginnings of Heathrow airport re-organising itself for maximum aeroplane ground movement efficiency. The toast rack is a series of termini and satellites, which sit between the two main runways that run east to west with the terminals and satellites, running north to south. You create a ladder where the spaces between the rungs are for buildings and where the rungs are cross taxiways – you don’t end up with any cul-de-sacs.

At the moment, the pier layout around Heathrow’s Central Terminal area is characterised by cul-de-sacs where free movements is limited by what’s happening in the cul-de-sac (one aircraft has to wait for another as they move in and out of stands). With the toast rack concept, which is being practiced at Atlanta now, you have access at both ends of every apron area, and planes can go out either way from the north or south, depending upon which runway is being used for which operations – landings or take offs.

The result of this toast rack concept, is that you can minimise your aircraft taxi times. Think about taxi time savings. Add up the total number of aircraft movements (approximately 1,200 a day at Heathrow at the moment) – taking 5 minutes off each aircraft taxiing time, creates a colossal time saving, roughly 100 hours extra flying time per day or more than 36,000 flying hours a year. The toast rack allows these sorts of efficiency gains to be achieved over the course of a year. An aircraft only earns money when it’s in the air, so if you can reduce the down time of an aircraft, the turn around times are shorter and the aircraft, airline and the airport all earn more, therefore the toast rack a very sensible, economic measure for the airline and the airport.

Airport efficiency, measured in terms of aircraft ground circulation, is vital to the competitive modern airport. The toast rack concept, evolved with BAA and T5, is the first piece of that modernisation process. The toast rack starts on the West side of Heathrow where there are three buildings that run north to south as bars between the two runways and taxiway systems. The main terminal is the western most building that touches the landside, and contains both land and airside areas. Then further to the east are two airside satellites of north south orientation, which are both ‘airside’ independent buildings. There is space for a third satellite in the toast rack, roughly where the fuel farm is at present. BAA are now looking at how the reconfiguration of the central terminal area will respond to the toast rack concept continuing east. As the toast rack develops, it creates ‘Heathrow East’ a new terminal building which will replace Terminal 2, The Queens Building and part of Terminal 1. ‘Heathrow East’ (the current concept study name for the next terminal) will also cause the demolition of Europier, a little building that RSHP designed relatively recently. Europier is a very good looking and popular pier building in Heathrow, but unfortunately it will be wiped out with the east going toast rack concept.
Eventually Heathrow will become a more complete toast rack with 2 or 3 major nodes. T5 to the west and new central terminal nodes in the middle. It will look very different than it does now over the years to come. The long term intent is to create a toast rack which allows maximum aircraft movement efficiency around the ground system and minimises down time, keeping Heathrow at the head of the pack.

How long do you think it will take to have a full ‘Toast Rack’ operation?

It’s difficult to predict but I believe that the intent is to have ‘Heathrow East’, in place for the Olympics. That will be the first piece of the new jigsaw and its construction necessitates the removal of Terminal 2 and the re-gigging of the area to the north of that, as terminal 2 has come to the end of its life. Norman Foster & Partners are the architects for ‘Heathrow East’ and they are studying that problem at this very moment with BAA.

Were there many setbacks or challenges along the way?

The fundamental set back in the T5 process was the longest public enquiry in British history, which slowed everything down for a long while. BAA needed T5 in place by 2000. Now, 8 years later the airport is bursting at the seams and everybody is being less than polite about some aspects of it. T5 is the first step in the process of revitalising the whole airport. Because it is one of the most successful airports in the world, the busiest international airport, there hasn’t been room on the chess board to shuffle the pieces around. The introduction of T5 allows that first shuffle to take place, which will then ripple through the whole of the central terminal area, with
major building modifications and also new buildings and also major relocation juggles of all the remaining airlines (T5 is a dedicated terminal headquarters for British Airways).

So the major setback was a public enquiry process, which turned out to be enormously more lengthy that anyone would have believed was possible. It cost BAA a vast sum of money as the Inquiry itself was more than three years in duration. Many more years past again before the determination and final permission were received. Since the start of the project in 1989 the T5 building concept evolved continuously and there were 4 different concepts developed – the last of which is built and is now open to the public.

Individually, can you describe the four changing design concepts?

Concept 1. The first, which was the competition concept, we called the ‘magic carpet’ concept. It was based upon a site which is much larger than the current site we have. In the early days of the competition, BAA felt that they could acquire the land to the west of the airport perimeter road, out as far as the M25, as the landside element of the new terminal if it was appropriately landscaped and treated. So the remit for the competition was a very large and very generous site, within which one could create the whole terminal and landside complex. We were offered a horizontal, unconstrained site` that we could develop, off to the west of the existing airport perimeter road. This meant that development was well away from the flight protection surfaces, with few horizontal or vertical constraints. One of the advantages of having a large site was that we could build on concepts which had previously been explored at Stansted, including the notion of a building where the arriving and departing passengers were all on one level and all would experience the same quality of space.

Stansted exhibits the single level concept very well, and it is a Terminal building that we admire. The arrivals and departures areas are all in the main hall, with the technical support and all the baggage, storage and technical systems below. Essentially you have one great room. In the case of T5, we also proposed a great room, covered by a flowing wavy roof, which gradually crescendoed in height over the largest hall spaces. We created multiple waves and the biggest waves sat over the most important public spaces and facilities.

The roof was deliberately conceived as flowing and tipped up on the outside edge on the airside as a celebration of ‘up up and away’ – as a symbol of flight. The concept also enabled us to bring light in through the roof which covered an enormous area as we didn’t want a roof that felt heavy and overbearing. Importantly, it afforded great generosity of space. Instead of squeezing passengers through 5-6 metre high spaces, we offered great lofty heights, more like cathedrals, in which people felt that they were moving through open and airy spaces with good views – generous architectural spaces.

That original concept was known as ‘the magic carpet’ as the roof itself resembles an undulating carpet. It inexorably drew you to the aircraft. You arrived at the landside as a departing passenger, were dropped off, and you gradually flowed under this flowing roof, which gets higher and higher and flicks up at the end, to where the aircraft were waiting. It was very much a linear process, all in generous space and light. That was the competition concept that was retained and we worked for two years on this with BAA. Then a fundamental challenge occurred. BAA received advice that the ability to acquire and fully develop the land west of the A3044 (the airport perimeter road) would be problematic for ecological and environmental reasons. There was also the issue of time.

Even if BAA could acquire the extended site, it might take a very long time to get all the approvals necessary to do so, and the airport requirements for a new terminal were pressing. It might take so long that it became non viable. As a result, BAA made a radical decision which was that they would pull back inside their own perimeter, the A3044 being the limit, and construct T5 on a much smaller site. This site would be much more tightly constrained between the two runways, which meant that we could not pursue the single level horizontal building concept any longer.

Concept 2. The decision to limit the site meant a complete design change from the competition winning concept. We worked on this new design challenge throughout ’91 & ‘92 and we evolved a more vertically developed concept. In order to get all the facilities in on a smaller site, you can’t spread out so you have to go up. We started looking at buildings with multi levels in order to achieve the objective. We were constrained by the north and south runways and taxiways and as you move towards the central terminal area you are also constrained by the flight cones and radar ceilings. We were boxed in and we eventually studied a building that was
the maximum length permissible between the north and south runway flight constraints and the maximum height that was possible under the flight cones and radar ceilings. We were very much defined in maximum volume by existing constraints and on the west side by the A3044 and airport perimeter road. We and BAA had to compress the scheme onto a much tighter footprint.

We designed a new scheme, which we called the ‘canyon scheme.’ It kept the concept of flowing roofs and the concept of good roof lighting flowing down through the building. On the basis of the original thesis, of arriving passengers having as enjoyable an experience as departing passengers, we would try and get as much light down to the arrivals processes as was available to the departing processes. Traditionally, departing passengers tend to flow in nicer and more generous space and often arriving passengers are treated to a less enjoyable journey back in, as they are not dwelling at the airport. Airside lounges are often in places that are of good quality but you often find the returning passengers going through the bowels of the earth. So we developed the ‘canyon scheme’ in which light penetrates right down to the baggage reclaiming areas. Despite the fact that you are coming inwards from the aircraft, you still have space, natural light and a decent environment, as opposed to being processed in endless internal corridors.

This second concept, the ‘canyon scheme’ was submitted for the public enquiry. The scheme was characterised by the organisation of the overall plan into a landside plate, a process plate and an airside plate, with all three bands of floor plate linked by bridges across two canyons, which allowed light to penetrate down to the lower levels of the building. That was a very clear idea, relating to the quality of passenger experience. Essentially the landside processes fitted one plate, the security and customs immigration processes sat on the middle plate, and the airside plate accommodated the airside dwelling lounges and aircraft gates. It all fitted rather well and off we all went to the public enquiry.

It soon became clear that a very long time would pass before we could expect an answer. However, no one thought it would take three years for the inquiry to conclude. In the meantime, RSHP were selected to design the new Barajas Airport in Madrid. There, in a very short time, we actually built a canyon scheme concept that was informed by the design that was in the public enquiry for T5. It was not the same building, because the site, the plan, the organisation and the design concept were different, but the driving organising idea was the same ‘canyon scheme’ idea with dedicated accommodation plates linked by bridges bringing passengers across canyons of light.

In Madrid there was no limitation of airport development land. That was the fundamental difference. We could produce a low, spread out building with not too many levels. This meant, however, a very large building indeed, but we were able to explore the ‘canyons of light’ concept and later to actually build it in practice. Whilst T5 was grinding through the Public Inquiry in the mid 90s, the airport and airline industry began to change dramatically. Heathrow is different
from most European airports, insofar as it is the prime north American international hub airport. Heathrow at the leading edge of prime route international air travel is forever trying to respond to the latest requirements at the front end of the industry.

BAA is also a private, as opposed to a state funded company, so virtually uniquely amongst other European airports, BAA have to pay for all their new airport facilities from their own funds. In France the key airports are strongly assisted by the state -you get rather grand places and the airport company isn’t obliged to fund everything themselves. In the case of BAA, retail and other forms of income are fundamental in terms of what they are able to afford to fund and build in a very intense international airport competitive hub market.

The canyon scheme was our direction – but change was in the air. Firstly, the UK didn’t sign up to the Schengen agreement, so we had to create extra lanes and extra routes for passengers in our design because the UK authorities didn’t trust the efficiency of all the frontier points across Europe. The UK runs its own extra checks, so UK airport buildings are more complex, with more different and segmented routes than you will find in the typical traditional European ‘Schengen’ terminal.

Secondly, in the 90s in Europe, big airline alliances began to emerge, we saw the growth of the ‘star alliance’ and ‘one world’ concepts with airlines grouping up together and then sharing routes and facilities. As a result, the new alliances could afford things they couldn’t afford as individual airlines, such as generous airside lounges, which gave extra facilities and exclusivity to their product.

Thirdly, as the alliances and exclusive lounges emerged and changed the briefs that airport buildings were trying to respond to, new facilities that weren’t there at all before also evolved. New product concepts appeared – Fast track rapidly became a differentiating mechanism for some airlines and airports.

So fast track started to sweep in – not as a small adjustment of the same space, but often as new space, carved out with difficulty and disruption. Sometimes fast track is even slower than slow track, but nevertheless was required by various airlines.

The fourth major element also changed in a big way – retail dramatically expanded all over northern European airports, but especially at Heathrow. Revenue at Heathrow is made not
only from aircraft landing charges, but also from retail, which incidentally reduces the landing charge cost, BAA are very keen to have world class, large scale retail facilities. They are also keen to point out that there are never excesses, as retail is a Darwinian concept and that they have never put in more retail than required. If you put in too many shops they will wither on the vine. Essentially it’s self regulating activity. If you poll the passengers, they say that they enjoy retail and that they need support services like cafes, newspaper stands and restaurants. Retail at Heathrow airport grew enormously and continues to grow. As a result, the nature of Terminal buildings began to be more influenced by retail than in previous times. Along with more retail comes more retail churn and change.

In addition to evolving airline alliances, many new products and major expansion of retail, coupled with the general growth of the industry (roughly 8% a year at the time), a further and very onerous fifth element reared its head. In the 90’s, dramatic differences in security began to emerge. After Lockerbie, the UK and the airline world became much more concerned about security issues and we saw the beginnings of more advanced search procedures and the consequent further internal re-organisation of terminals. Then, after 9/11, further severe security requirements were to make the issue even more onerous. Security has tightened up continuously over the last decade and a half. New technology for security has also swept in, meaning that we have had to accommodate new machines, new systems, new procedures and processes for both passengers and baggage handling, not to mention building security and apron safety. All of these events and changes meant only one thing. If you design a building layout in 1989, it will almost certainly be completely out of date 10 years later. The message that emerged from observation of the industry was that every key twenty first century air terminal should plan for significant flexibility for growth and change.

The Practices work at Heathrow also covered other projects – airside additions to an already extremely busy and successful airport targeted at improving and upgrading by adding to existing facilities. Heathrow has always been in a state of upgrade and change and consequently it is a continuous construction site. When we added the Terminal 1 airside lounge, we had to plan and design for 20 million passengers flowing through our construction site during the process, which is quite extraordinary. Imagine trying to construct a building airside (which is twice the cost of doing the same thing landside) then throw in 20 million passengers who
walk through your construction site, with all the health and safety implications, and in temporary corridors you literally have to change the position of overnight, on a continuing basis. It was a logistical nightmare.

Unless you conceive and plan for the future with huge generosity of space, the modern airport will be a continuous construction site, adapting to the changing and passenger and airline industry needs. In the case of T5, as a result of the cry for flexibility – (something our office has espoused since the days of our Pompidou Centre in Paris), in the mid 90’s we called into question the concept that we were actually supporting in the public enquiry. The three plate, two canyon scheme was beginning to look as if it was not flexible enough for the particular BAA environment in the Heathrow context. What happens if the airside lounge growth is bigger than BAA and ourselves had planned for? There is a finite limit to each floor size before you have to pinch a piece of the next plate! If you define the size of the plate, you have to be sure that your facilities are not going to exceed its size. In the end we concluded something radical but obvious. We decided that we should adopt a larger, more loose fit floor plate system, a much bigger, more unified plate that you could adapt locally to suit changing needs, not constrained by the local geography of the building. BAA and our design team moved away from the canyon scheme towards a bigger but looser fit concept that was the 3rd concept.

Concept 3. Concept 3 was what we called the ‘tied-arch concept.’ The two previous schemes, the ‘magic carpet’ and the ‘canyon scheme’, were both characterised by column supports throughout the building supporting the roofs. What became clear, in visiting many airports -. Stansted included, was that whatever you do, the internal column layout becomes a constraint on internal planning. When you do decide to change the internal layouts of areas of the building, the structure and the interiors seldom sit well together at all. The structure and the retail or other facilities become mixed up and virtually clash, with disadvantage to both and with both systems often compromised as a result, rather than looking seamlessly compatible. So as a team, BAA and ourselves looked at longer spans, which meant less columns and greater flexibility. We studied several longer span solutions and created what was called the ‘tied arch’ scheme.

The ‘tied arch’ scheme had quite an ambitious roof span, around 100 metres, which dramatically reduced the number of internal columns in the building. In order to achieve this very large span, we needed to create a tie underneath the arch – a tie which ran through the floor of the building, like the string of a bow. The bow is bent and the tension in the string keeps the bend and shape in place. Imagine putting the bow down with the string on the ground and the bow in the air. That gives you a tied arch – a big span with no internal columns. The ‘tied arch’ scheme gave us much greater flexibility and we produced a set of plans in the late 90’s which offered a looser fit building with less columns. It did, however, have the constraint of the tie running right though the building, so every bay of the building ended up with a tie through it as a structural constraint. The result was that ties were flying in space in some parts of the building and in other parts were buried in the floors. Whatever you did you couldn’t cut or eliminate the ties – they were another inherent constraint but nevertheless offered a much less constrained interior. We gained some advantages, but we were not quite where we wanted to be. BAA and ourselves fully explored the third concept, the ‘tied arch’ and realised that there were even bolder ways to increase flexibility and achieve less constraint on the floor plate.

The ‘tied arch’ scheme had also incorporated the idea of placing the various rail and underground stations underneath the terminal, directly integrated into the terminal space. The vision was that you arrived on the Heathrow express or Piccadilly line, stepped off the train, and the platform itself was also the bottom of the very large generous welcoming space of the T5 landside concourse. It was a multi height space – not a railway station with an eternity of corridors. You simply arrived by train into the space. As it happened, this idea turned out to be virtually impossible to realise. We gained a lot from the experience from Kings Cross, in terms of fire and smoke control, and it turned out that the legislative regime in the railway environment was so different from that of a normal building that we couldn’t merge the two at all. The intention was there, but the actual physical constraints of trying to control smoke and fire and reduce risk in a combined environment, was just too great. So we reluctantly abandoned the notion of one united space – the train station as the airport concourse – and that change of direction also forced us towards a further rethink on the ‘tied arch’. As a result of the rethink the ‘tied arch’ grew even larger and finally evolved into the 4th and final concept – ‘the great hall’ which stands today.

Concept 4. With the ‘great hall’ concept we moved the rail stations to a newly created space that we called the ‘interchange’, an external piazza just outside the terminal building on the landside. Then we designed an even longer span for the main building, a full span arch spanning 156.6 metres. This is a colossal span, very large indeed, one of the largest public buildings spans in the world. The advantage of this great span meant there were no constraints of any sort on the interior of the departures concourse building and few on the buildings as a whole. As a result, we created a great hall about 160-170m wide and nearly 400m long, with no internal column constraints. That meant an interior you could adapt much more easily without any compromise and respond to any demand for changing layouts of emigration, retail, check-in, security, airside lounges and public spaces – no main structural columns to plan around and no permanent fixes.

We ended up with a very clear concept which in some ways returned to the spirit of our earliest competition idea, yielding a very large departures floor plate, with no constraints on it at all. You don’t have to take the envelope of the building into account in internal planning.

Alongside this long span ‘great hall’ concept came the decision to make the interior fabric of the building below the departures levels, an independent, steel frame structure. This internal structure is freestanding and does not join with the edges of the external building envelope at any point. You have an external wrapper with a void space all around the edges with an easily adaptable island inside. As a result, natural light pours into the building at the facades, then beyond this void, you have an internal structure which can be changed at will, without any impact whatsoever on the main external envelope. You don’t need any new planning permissions, you just get on with it. Then parallel with this idea of external envelope and freestanding independent interior, on the landside, we also introduced the concept of the landside interchange. We still had to move people arriving from London by the Piccadilly line, Heathrow express and by heavy rail, up and into the departures concourse and the interchange concept offered the solution.

We decided to place the three large railway stations under the building, but with the connectors to the terminal rising in the interchange, independent of the interior of the terminal. The interchange is a 30 metre wide landside street, outside the building on the west side. All the vertical passenger circulation from the rail systems rise outside the terminal building. The concept of the interchange is not common in airports. Pulling the parking structure and access roads away from the building and creating a landside traffic free piazza for the public also means that you create a landside elevation to the building, instead of roads and kerbs. This move created the interchange, a landside concourse, outdoors, planted with trees, fountains and sculptures, that forms an expansion zone, spill out and dwell space for the arrivals concourse. Aerial passenger bridges from the departures drop zone and car park span across the interchange and pass through the terminal façade. The interchange also allows natural light to enter the landside face of the building.

From the rail station below passengers rise up through the interchange space up to the departures level and enter directly into the great hall.

One of the responsibilities of designing a new terminal is that you have to plan for the staff properly, as well as for the passengers. We have more than 3,000 staff in T5. Traditionally, airline staff tend to have offices buried in the bowels of buildings and live under permanent artificial lighting. We wanted the BA staff to have decent offices, with light and view. By creating the landside interchange, which is wider than Regent Street, the parking structure is sufficiently far away to allow natural light to permeate through the landside facade and let the light stream into staff offices. BA staff at T5 have a good quality environment in which to live and work. Although they are not always at their desks, as staff are off around the building looking after passengers, they nevertheless have a base and a much more pleasant environment in which to live. Inside the façade of the building and all around the building – airside and landside, an atrium void is created that not only allows light to penetrate deep into the building but also houses the landside vertical movement and also the airside movement down to aircraft from the airside lounge areas.

One of our design tenets was to organise the passenger movement in zones which were always in light and air. You move through spaces that are generous, which have light, great views and are pleasant to be in. All too often in airports passengers find themselves walking down long and uninteresting corridors and no matter how well lit or how many sculptures are along the way, it is not the same as being in a great place with a fine view. One of the key design objectives of the project was to give the passenger journey real quality. BA, BAA and the design team objectives were the same – how do you make the passenger experience a good one?

There are a number of ways of achieving this. The three railway stations arrive below the interchange 12 metres below ground. Within the interchange we are able to remove the ground to allow the light to penetrate all the way down to the platforms. If you come to Heathrow by train, on the platform level you can look up and see the sky.

Passengers are offered very high speed lift systems which are designed to deal with a complete train load of passengers in a short time, bringing them from platform rapidly up to departure level, 18m above ground level and straight into the check-in hall.

Anybody who arrives in the car park also moves up to the departures level, joining passengers arriving by public transport (buses, coaches, hotel drops, taxis). All passengers are brought to the departures level and move straight across the bridges into the main hall. All departing passengers flow in from the same side, through the façade into the great hall, an immense landside concourse where you can perceive the overall space and the great roof with daylight flooding down through generous roof lighting systems. The departures concourse is a huge hall, a large and generous public space where you understand intuitively what you are doing.
BA themselves have introduced a new three band check in system; self check-in as the first wave, then bag drop the second wave, then conventional check-in for those remaining passengers who check-in traditionally. Bear in mind that many people will have checked-in electronically before they left home or the office. In the modern world, check-in can be a relatively easy process by e-check-in, rather than by an on site check-in. The intention of this three wave layout is to speed the process, reduce queuing and create calm, comprehension and good service on the landside concourse.

Having checked-in, passengers flow through two security points. There are the north and south security zones, the south zone being oriented towards business and international passengers, the other being for domestic and economy passengers – either can serve in an emergency if something happens at one of them. They both join up on the airside to the same common lounge space. Passengers emerge to great balconies overlooking in the airside lounge area, which is essentially a series of public squares, surrounded by retail services. Passengers overlook the airside lounges, aircraft, long views, the central terminal area, and the distant 87m high new control tower, itself a part of the T5 project.

The design team are particularly proud of the roof. If you place a 400 metres long by 170 metres wide roof on a building, it could look and feel incredibly heavy, and oppressive above your head. In T5 this is not the case – nearly 10% of the roof is roof lights, a very efficient form of natural lighting. The beams which form the main spans act as light baffles, which achieve a very good quality of light. The great hall really is a delight to be inside and it has been one of the great successes of the design. The great soaring, swooping roof, in fact floats delicately, giving wonderful lighting patterns, both in the day and in the evening – it works very well. It is an elegant backdrop for the virtual city within.

Then from the airside lounge areas, you descend through an airside space between the inner independent islands of construction and the façade and move down escalators and onto air bridges out to the aircraft.

Around the main building, you have aircraft stands on three sides with traditional air bridges. If you are not leaving on an aircraft from the main building you will emplane from one of the two satellites. An escalator system takes satellite destination passengers right down through the building, to a track transit system 12 metres below the apron, passengers travel out on an automated track transit system to either satellite 1 or 2 and rise to departure lounges, again well provided with natural light and good views in generous spaces.

One of the properties of the T5 main concourse building is that it is a sky scraper, it’s 60 metres high from top to bottom, 40 metres high above grade, and about 20m below – a very tall terminal building. One of the advantages of a compact vertically developed building, is that the walking distances are relatively modest, so instead of being spread out over enormous horizontality, you can compact routes into short runs – and with the assistance of track transit system and the toast rack concept nobody has to walk very long distances.

We created a vertically integrated main terminal building. One of the design challenges of the project was the integration of the diverse requirements of 43 different stakeholder groups from the big players like BA, BAA, apron operations. HM Immigration, BAA security, baggage and retail, through to more modest but nevertheless essential groups like the trolley circulation and maintenance teams, all who had clear individual agendas and strong views.

Our senior project team leader, Steve Martin, has a talent for organising and simplifying complex systems and is also a persuasive past master at herding cats! Both skills proved invaluable in weaving all the key, often conflicting demands of a large number of vociferous and expert stakeholder teams together into one co-ordinated high performance machine, whilst realising the objectives of clarity of function, legibility, and elegance of function. He did a brilliant job, supported by inter-disciplinary teamwork across the board. Across the whole of the T5 project there are many unsung heroes, in conception, design and construction.

Following the success of T5, do you envisage other airports adopting the same design and process in the future?

I think every airport context is different. Every site that you are offered for an airport terminal building has different constraints, including things that you can’t see. It is remarkable what is underneath the ground. The computer image of what is beneath the central terminal area at Heathrow is mind-boggling – spaghetti looks better organised. In any airport you may encounter underground systems, airline fuel lines, drainage, power supplies, terminals for people’s baggage and trains and services. It is very difficult to transpose a T5 concept on to another airport, because you have to respond by starting with the individual site and working from that. Orientation will also be an issue. We were very lucky at Heathrow that with the north south toast rack concept, sun, light and view all work together. You could be working at another airport where these things will be in conflict with one another. Access will be different, where aircraft take off and land will be different, there may be sight line issues from the control towers and many underground constraints. It would be unreasonable to assume that the T5 building concept could be imposed upon another site. However, I think parts of the T5 process will definitely be adopted and some of the things that we learned at T5 will definitely be used elsewhere.

With potentially another terminalto be added to Heathrow in the future, what practises will be carried over through lessons learned from this project?

One of the great successes of T5 was the off-site pre construction work. We spent large sums of money on off-site mock ups. For example, the client, the structural contractor and ourselves saw the wisdom of spending £1.5million, in Yorkshire, erecting one piece of the T5 structure as a rehearsal. We built what is called a buttress, which is one of the huge multi legged support systems for the roof . Each buttress is nearly 34m high and weighs several hundred tons. The steelwork team tried a complete erection rehearsal creating a piece of façade 18 metre x 29 metre high, a 35m section of roof with a set of buttress legs. From this trial erection, the client, design and steelwork team and the steelwork contractor learnt over one hundred different things that we would do differently on site. As an integrated team we had made some assumptions, and where the assumptions were found wanting in the mock up and problems emerged, we adjusted our erection procedures, our tolerancing and adjustment procedures, to eliminate those problems.

You want problem solving to happen off-site, not on-site. It was a brilliant move and it meant that when the main structure of the terminal building went up, it went up like clock-work. The mock-ups were worth every penny. The cost of delay on a site employing over 6,000 men is enormous, you can imagine the costs involved. The mock-up process was used for many parts of the building. There were mock ups for air-conditioning, mock ups for structural elements, roof cladding, facades and services and we gained great advantages from pre site mock ups in all areas of the construction. You learn so much. You not only discover technically what the problems are, but you also build and bond the team. You get the team working together and the co operation and co ordination improves between team members. Everyone ends up with common objectives. People with different skills and ownership of elements within this piece of the process all start understanding the challenges that they set other people in the design process. Co-operative design as opposed to ‘‘I’m just doing my bit and to hell with the rest of you.’’ You end up with a closely knit team operation, with good focus and good common objectives and then you tune, to build faster, whilst building safely. You also find that you can build more economically as a result.

Another success that I think will be used on later projects, is the concept of co-location, where a large team works in the same place. Instead of having 15 different firms across the country sending things to each other, you have just one room, one project office, where everyone works together – the whole team as one team. At one stage we had well over 300 people working on T5, all in the same building, from 24 different companies.

The other success, which I think will be repeated, is concurrent engineering. BAA and the design team selected the contractors right at the beginning, long before the design was complete, and the advantages of that, was that I could sit down in our design process, with Peter Emmerson, the head of Severfield-Rowan, the steelwork contractors sitting alongside myself, my fellow director Amarjit Kalsi and my steelwork team leader Dennis Austin, all debating the long span concept together. Questions flew around. Can you manage this? What’s the maximum we can lift? What are the health and safety implications of this idea? How would we pre-construct this, how many men does it take to do that? How can we fabricate this? Can we add permanent pick-up lugs here? Can we bolt rather than weld? What tolerances can we achieve? How can we simplify this? Can we modularise elements? How can we build it safely?
You can have these discussions together very early on in the design process. You get good feedback into the design from the contractors, the people who are actually going to build it, during the design process – an integrated design team. We called this concurrent engineering – it has been a great success.

RSHP and Arup, who were the structural engineers for the super-structure and steel work, our main steelwork contractor and our roofing contractor, all regularly sat together, in the same room involved in the same design process. It is the exact opposite of the old way of doing things. With everyone participating in the design, we all signed off a common design, tuned everything, passed it over to the fabrication team and a well designed, safety considered, easy to manufacture, assembly planned piece of the building emerged, surrounded by a proud team.
The design of buildings will always be an individual response, but the process and systems will be very much reusable. Also in other airport and tunnel projects, the general overall objective behind T5 will be revised and repeated – which is that of improving the overall passenger experience and adding some surprise and delight to the passengers’ journey. In the end a terminal building is only there to serve and please the travelling public.

About Mike Davies CBE, Project Director T5

Mike Davies has worked with Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP) for more than 34 years and has been involved with virtually all the projects carried out by the practice. He worked for six years in Paris on the Pompidou Centre and was Project Architect for the adjacent Institute for Research & Co-ordination in Acoustics & Music (IRCAM). On returning to the UK he worked on the Lloyd’s of London project, on Inmos, the Government microprocessor industry flagship, and on Europier/Terminal 1 and Terminal 5 projects at London’s Heathrow Airport.

His current work includes strategic guidance on the Jacob Javits Convention Centre, New York, Tower 3 at the World Trade Centre in New York, and is Director in Charge of the masterplan for Canary Wharf / Wood Wharf, development, London, and also the redevelopment of Bracknell town centre.

His particular roles within the practice include responsibility for urban design, technology, scientific research and development. He was Project Director for the strategic masterplan of the Royal Docks in London and for masterplans of the City of Dunkirk, for Leamouth and the Greenwich Peninsula in London. He was also the Project Director of the Millennium Dome at Greenwich and Riverside South at Canary Wharf, lead the masterplaning team for the Lower Manhattan East River project for the City of New York and is currently the project Director for Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.

He was awarded a CBE in 2000 for services to architecture.

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