Airports Have Gotten Insanely Complicated

Watch the construction of the Zaha Hadid-designed Beijing Airport, expected to be the world’s largest, and think about how much you don’t want to be late for a flight in there.

Having to accommodate millions of travelers and thousands of flights, airports are among the most challenging structures to design. Their scale also makes constructing them an arduous feat, as a recent video of the Beijing Airport shows. It was designed by ADP Ingénierie in collaboration with Zaha Hadid Architects.


The new terminal clocks in at 7.5 million square feet–about the same size as 130 football fields–and it is expected to serve 100 million passengers annually. Its design is intended to make travel as efficient and as intuitive as possible. Once it’s finished in 2019, the $12.9 billion building will have the elegant, organic forms Hadid is known for. But now? It’s a colossal, haphazard construction site.

None of this would be possible without BIM, or Building Information Management software. These models allow builders to map out every component of a structure–the framing, the heating ducts, the electrical wiring, and every last outlet and socket–so they know precisely where they should be installed. Before this type of software was installed, contractors were more or less flying by the seat of their pants and would install their piece of the puzzle without necessarily thinking about what else needed to be done. This leads to mistakes and inefficiencies–two things that can make a project the scale of Beijing’s new airport go over budget and take longer than expected–and quality control headaches. Now with BIM, they can speed up construction time and ensure that resources are being used effectively.

An aerial video from New China TV, which was published in March, shows the in-progress structure and how workers are steadily piecing the terminal together. The foundation is set and the steel structure topped out in June. Watching the video is a reminder of how buildings like this would be damn near impossible to erect without complex software like BIM.

Beijing isn’t the only city with an airport megaproject underway. Dubai is in the process of building a $36 million terminal, Mexico City has a $13 billion Foster+Partners design in the works, and Moshe Safdie is designing a new airport for Singapore that looks more like a theme park than an aviation hub. In the end, it doesn’t matter how good buildings look in a rendering–it’s how they’re executed. And thanks to BIM, builders are able to realize architects’ wildest designs.


About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.