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Column 120814 Wall

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Plan for Mexico City's Unique and Imaginative New Airport

By Allan Wall

Plans are underway to construct a new airport in Mexico City.

Mexico City’s current international airport is at capacity, and a larger one is needed.  This past summer my family and I flew in and out of Mexico City on our way to Cuba, and the airport seemed crowded – the planes seemed close to each other. 

The new planned airport was announced by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on September 2nd, 2014, in the annual “Informe” (equivalent to the U.S. State of the Union Address).

This is an ambitious undertaking and, if completed as planned, would be a spectacular structure. 

The new airport is to be constructed adjacent to the current airport.  The initial cost estimate was US$9.1 billion, but that estimate has since been revised upwards to US$13 billion.  It wouldn’t be surprising if it winds up costing even more.

Construction is to begin next year, in 2015.  Funding is to be 58% public and 42% private.

The airport is being designed by world-renowned British architect Norman Foster and Mexican architect Fernando Romero, son-in-law of Carlos Slim.  The design firms involved are Foster + Partners, Romero’s FR-EE firm, and Netherlands Airport Consultants.

A few of Foster’s previous designs include the HSBC (Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) main building in Hong Kong, “The Gherkin” Building and the Willis Building in London, and the Torre Bankia in Madrid.

This new Mexico City airport would have just one enormous 6 million square-foot terminal.  The airport’s entire lot is to be 11,400 acres, equivalent to 17.8125 square miles.

There are two phases to the construction plan.  The first phase would last from 2015 to 2020, with part of the airport in operation beginning in 2018.   

By the end of the first phase, three runways would be in operation.  With three of the runways in simultaneous operation, 50 million passengers would be able to pass through the airport annually.

The second phase would add three more runways.  Under the six-runway plan, four runways would be 4 kilometers each in length, with the other two being 4 and a half kilometers in length.

The land set aside for the new airport is already owned by the Mexican federal government, part of the former lakebed of Lake Texcoco, in the state of Mexico (which lies adjacent to the Federal District).  Students of Mexican history should recall that the Mexico City metropolitan area lies on the lakebed of a complex of lakes which have almost all been filled in.

The need for a new airport has been obvious for many years. Back in 2002, then-president Vicente Fox attempted to have one constructed in the same general location of the current proposed site.  That previous plan was cancelled due to protests.  

This time though, the federal government claims that it has purchased all the necessary land and no more land needs to be acquired.  Some of the locals disagree, however, asserting that the government got the land through pressure and dishonesty, and thus there have been protests, and it is likely there will be more in the future.  

Since so much money is to be spent on this project anyway, would it not be advantageous for the government to spend some more money to recompense local communities?

So who will build the new airport?  Actual bidding by construction companies has not yet begun, but world’s-wealthiest-man Carlos Slim is interested, so his Grupo Carso is likely to be one of the companies bidding.

The Foster + Partners website has this to say of the airport plan:

“Designed to be the world’s most sustainable airport, the compact single terminal uses less materials and energy than a cluster of buildings. The design ensures short walking distances and few level changes, it is easy to navigate, and passengers will not have to use internal trains or underground tunnels – it is a celebration of space and light…. (It) has a monumental scale inspired by Mexican architecture and symbolism…. The lightweight glass and steel structure and soaring vaulted roof are designed for Mexico City’s challenging soil conditions. Its unique prefabricated system can be constructed rapidly, without the need for scaffolding – the airport will be a showcase for Mexican innovation, built by Mexican contractors and engineers. The entire building is serviced from beneath, freeing the roof of ducts and pipes and revealing the environmental skin. This hardworking structure harnesses the power of the sun, collects rainwater, provides shading, directs daylight and enables views – all while achieving a high performance envelope that meets high thermal and acoustic standards. The LEED Platinum design works with Mexico City’s temperate, dry climate to fill the terminal spaces with fresh air using displacement ventilation principles. For a large part of the year, comfortable temperatures will be maintained by almost 100% outside air, with little or no additional heating or cooling required.”

Norman Foster, the architect, summarized the airport plan in these words: “There will be nothing else like it in the world.”

For more information, see the Foster + Partners website here; and watch this video here.

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info.

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