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A holistic design approach to operate the first climate neutral airport terminal

«Airports are no longer just about travels; they are civic hubs», says CallisonRTKL, building the first net-zero airport

A net-zero terminal in Guadalajara, Mexico

The global architecture firm CallisonRTKL is building the first net-zero airport in Guadalajara, Mexico in the Jalisco region. The construction of airports, even excluding air traffic itself, which alone makes up for the two percent of all human produced carbon emissions each year, is associated with issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, unrespectful land exploitation, noise pollution and massive production of waste. CallisonRTKL aims at changing this and make the industry greener and construction itself more transparent. It is all but easy to make an industry like that of traveling more sustainable. It implies carbon emissions for transportation, in particular when talking about planes. Making the infrastructure on the ground more respectful of the environment can still have a significant impact. As Pablo La Roche, lead of the Sustainability Team for CallisonRTKL explains, when it comes to airports, most of the emissions come from «embodied emission», meaning the carbon embedded in the production and transportation of material as well as from operation of the building. Attention must also be paid to the building once it becomes operational, as far as waste is concerned, but also regarding the food and beverage offered, and the shopping that you can do on site. 

Guadalajara T2 research and design phase 

The research and design phase are key for the whole lifecycle of such facilities. A relevant drive comes from consumers – or, in this case, travelers: «there is pressure» confirms Laroche, «to be more responsible towards the environment, which has increased over the last couple of years». When looking at the airport industry, «the airlines themselves as well as the airplane manufacturers are trying to make their aircrafts more fuel-efficient and research is being done about alternative types of fuels or even solar vehicles, which is at some point going to happen». In this context, CallisonRTKL is also working to develop a sustainable rating system in collaboration with one of the airlines, to be able to rank the level of sustainability of the buildings they own. As for the design of Guadalajara terminal two, Laroche is looking primarily at reducing emissions during construction and sourcing materials. All materials for the building will be sourced within five hundred miles from the construction site, they also will be high-quality and durable in spite of the cost: as Kap Malik, CallisonRTKL Director of Aviation and Transportation explains, «we are aware that in an airport material will be subject to heavy use, and in a way abused».

To reduce the emissions rather than compensating for them later

When talking about zero impact, says La Roche, «what we are talking about is zero carbon». Reaching net-zero is a noble goal that more and more companies over the world are making their own, but it is not always transparent and as efficient as it sounds. With Guadalajara T2, CallisonRTKL is aiming to do more: first of all, to reduce the emissions themselves rather than compensating for them later, and secondly, carrying through compensation with on-site energy production. In order to manage reducing emissions, they are planning on applying different techniques. «Many of the strategies are already embedded in the project, like daylighting to reduce the use of electrical light and the energy consumption and the carbon emissions», says La Roche. In order to be able to use natural lighting, they wanted the airport to be as transparent as possible, but, in a place like Mexico, with a hot and humid climate, this implies having to use energy to cool off the inside of the building: «we wondered how we could achieve a transparent envelope while being energy efficient». La Roche found a simple solution to this problem by looking at shade control to be «solar responsive». They are also planning on using high performance glass to control the glare. With relatively simple and intuitive tools, you can diminish emissions. CallisonRTKL is planning on «recycling water, producing renewable energy on site, and controlling daylight, adding green walls and using healthy materials and natural ventilation integrated with a mechanical system». For Guadalajara T2 they thought of embedding sustainability in every element. The ceiling is the most evident example: constructed in high performance and low carbon wood, it was designed with openings to filter light, to balance lighting, shading and heating. 

CallisonRTKL is planning to reduce terminal emissions by seventy percent

The assessment of the local environment

The first design step for CallisonRTKL is assessing the local environment: «we always start by studying the local climate» and analyzing how the solutions they have in mind can fit the chosen location. «If we are to become carbon-neutral we must have a good understanding of where we are located and how to respond to that climate». Studies are also carried out to measure the need for energy and related emission throughout the solar year, «which indicates the response that the building must have» which in turn makes it possible to understand what architectural solutions are to be applied and make data-informed decisions. An airport terminal of the same size as Guadalajara T2 typically consumes 553 kW per hour per square meter of energy. CallisonRTKL is confident they can reduce that number up to seventy percent, getting it to 170 kW per hour per square meter, and power the airport for the portion that is still needed by producing clean and renewable energy on site. This will mean saving up to nine thousand metric tons every year. The overall impact on the environment will be zero. Social sustainability is also taken into account. The terminal itself is expected to provide the local community with six to eight thousand jobs, products sold in the food and shopping halls will also be local. 

Guadalajara T2 airport design: bringing culture in

The design of the airport is inspired by the Jalisco region itself. Jalisco is rich both in terms of environment and culture: it contains all five Mexico ecosystems within itself, and it’s where tequila was invented and traditional Tapatío dancing developed. As Liliana Bernardis, associate principal CallisonRTKL architect in Mexico City explains, following a holistic approach, all these elements, together with its typical bird, the Mexican Eagle, are present in the building design, based on the principle that in contemporary society, where most of the tourism is organized around flying, «airports are the gates to the city». The structure is inspired by the agave plant from which tequila is extracted, the canyons that constitute one of the local ecosystems are caught in the shape of the ceiling; sectionally, the building recalls the wing structure of the Eagle; and the Tapatío dancing is what gives rhythm to the overall construction. Shapes inspired by the dancers’ bodies in movement will also be reproduced as artforms and patterns on the internal walls. The building will be transparent for the most part, allowing visitors coming in and flying out to interact with the local landscape. Typical plants will be placed both inside and out, in dialogue between each other. Two areas will be used as galleries and dedicated to showcasing local artists. Green walls will be used in different areas both for design and environmental reasons. CallisonRTKL also developed a study to assess the stress levels linked to all traveling phases. Green walls, culture and the way they decided to structure lighting are among the solutions they found to reduce them. In the waiting halls different types of seating are thought to accommodate the needs of different customers, from families to businessmen. 

Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico (GAP)

Malik explains how GAP (Grupo Aroportuario del Pacífico) who owns thirteen airports and have a concession from the Mexican government to operate Guadalajara for fifty years, was on board Being keen on finding sustainable solutions to make the air traffic industry greener is without any doubt necessary, just as reducing the flying frequency of the average travelers is, but it is also fostered by a new tendency in travelers themselves. Customers are now looking for a value experience journey. It no longer suffices to give people the means to move from one place to the other, which has now become a common and even obvious possibility. This must now be done while respecting their values – most of which are now demanding sustainability – and giving them a well-rounded experience. 

CallisonRTKL

Is a global architecture planning and design company. They aim to use technology and innovation to create responsible and sustainable building design.

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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