Cathedral for air travel

Thursday 17 Jan 2008

WAN's Sara Mercer finds T5 has something for everyone

As you approach Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners' Terminal 5, at London's Heathrow, nothing quite prepares you for the enormity of the building. Resembling a giant aircraft hanger the immense roof is dynamically curved, with great bands of glazing flooding the interior with daylight. The simple and curvaceous design is awe-inspiring. As you walk through the terminal giant “beacons” are strategically placed along the way. The beacons are funky clusters of utilites, like a cell phone they service a local zone but instead displaying flight information, advertising and even the air conditioning units. The concept being to keep the interior as clutter-free as possible. And it works. The passenger areas are on one level, with plant rooms, baggage handling and other ancillary functions below, though passenger areas extend over two levels at both edges of the building. Although the terminal is massive (to give you an idea of the size you could lay three empire state buildings side by side inside the terminal) it is virtually impossible to get lost, even for people with no sense of direction. In the baggage area, large white circles dominate the ceiling, these are in place of traditional ceiling tiles and can drop down when maintenance work is being carried out. Clean and effective. Gone are the days of the damaged and stained ceiling tiles. The retail shopping areas have all the major brands along with good food outlets throughout the terminal. And if that is not enough, why not experience the UK's first personal rapid transport system (PRT), a network of 18 of these four seater capsules low-energy, driverless pod-shaped vehicles (that look like they have come straight from the sci-fi film Bladerunner) will take you from the business car park to the new terminal building. All-in-all an experience for everyone. ........

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