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New Airport Borrows From Forbidden City

updated: 2010-04-26

Perhaps surprisingly, visitors to the world's sixth busiest airport, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), might notice some similarities with traditional Chinese architecture-the Forbidden City.

Curtis Fentress, head designer of LAX's reconstruction project, paid a visit to Beijing last week and enthusiastically noted some eco-friendly ideas while taking a walk around the Forbidden City.

"The Forbidden City is very sustainable," Fentress says.

Fentress, 53, is the foremost airport designer in the world. His works include Incheon International Airport in South Korea and Denver International Airport in Colorado and his company Fentress Architects was selected in 2008 by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) to modernize LAX.

Fentress is focusing on sustainability for the new design and says that he is trying to make the new LAX a Silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building, which would make it the first Silver LEED airport in the world.

"To study sustainability, it is best to look at classical Chinese architecture," says Agatha Kessler, chief executive officer and principal of Fentress Architects.

Kessler says that Fentress and the team are studying the rooflines and the curves of the traditional Chinese architecture, "Their profiles are very distinctive, the materials are long lasting, and all of them are local. All ventilation is natural. The rooflines are not too high, so that if the air is warm, it heats the floors. And that's why there are two big bowls of water outside to put out the fire and no pollution inside."

When it comes to LAX, Fentress says that the design will combine beauty, function and the spirit of the city. "As an airport is a person's first and last impression of the city," he says.

Fentress says his new LAX design features a giant wave-pattern roof, which represents Los Angeles' relaxed lifestyle that centers on sunshine, beaches and the sea.

"The roof forms are like waves, but they are organized on the building in the correct direction. They are facing east and north, so that we gather sunshine and it bounces in, but not too hot," he explains. "The waves on the other side of the building are screening the south and west sunlight, which is harsh and has a lot of heat. In this way, we are screening out the bad light, letting in the good light."

Having designed so many airports, the company naturally has some opinions about those in China. "There are very beautiful airports in Beijing and Shanghai. They are easy to use and have fantastic colors, but the only challenge with Beijing International Airport is the size," Kessler says.

"The passenger numbers are not so great. But time will correct that, and there is room for growth," Fentress adds.

He suggests that Beijing International should perhaps borrow from the new LAX design and adopt a modular approach.

Fentress says that while he liked the Bird's Nest and the National Center for the Performing Arts, which are "very striking in the landscape and memorable", he believes the most sustainable architecture in China is still the traditional variety.

By talking about the sustainability of architecture, people often think it is about building with water and electricity conserving devices, Fentress explains. But, he says, it is not that simple. It is about making buildings environmentally friendly.

"There are things which the eyes can't see. We are working with sustainable materials that we specify for buildings. We don't get materials that are harmful to people, and we also use materials that are renewable, like wood and recycled ones," he says.


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