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Leading the way


The innovative, efficient and sustainable design of airport terminals is nothing new to the Asia-Pacific region, writes Terence Seah, director of Benoy Singapore.

Asia-Pacific (APAC) is one of the fastest-growing aviation markets in the world, with passenger numbers more than quadrupling over the last 15 years and both ACI and IATA forecasting that the region will account for more than half of new passenger traffic globally over the next two decades.

Growth on this scale would place a major strain on the infrastructure and natural resources of any region in the world. But in Asia-Pacific, the potential impact is even greater as the region comprises diverse ecological areas and boasts a wealth of rich, but fragile natural habitats, including 17 of the world’s 36 recognised biodiversity hotspots.

As such, infrastructure development in the region requires a delicate balancing of priorities and approach.

In fact, how to manage industry growth responsibly, with due regard for the environment and local communities, is a major challenge facing APAC’s airlines and airports alike.

Airlines, naturally, are focusing their attention on the skies, exploring options such as electric aircraft, alternative flight paths, aviation biofuels and hybrids – the benefits of which won’t be felt for many years.

Airports, meanwhile, are responding with more immediate, on-the-ground solutions. From Hong Kong and Singapore to Indonesia and South Korea, innovative new terminal buildings are driving progress in operational efficiency, natural resource conservation, passenger experience and social responsibility.

In doing so, these airports are setting new standards in sustainable airport design – not only for Asia-Pacific, but for the rest of the world as well.

Improving performance and perception

With air travel accounting for over 2% of global CO2 emissions, the aviation industry is coming under increasing public scrutiny and pressure to improve its environmental performance.

To reduce these impacts, the industry has committed to carbon-neutral growth from 2020 onwards and aims to cut CO2 emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2050. In support of these goals, mandatory emissions reporting was introduced in January 2019 under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

Efforts to achieve airport sustainability have also been underway for some time. In 2007, the global airport industry made commitments to reduce its carbon emissions at the ACI World Annual Assembly, Conference & Exhibition. And nine years later, at the Airports Going Green conference in Amsterdam, airports from all over the world signed the Airports Sustainability Declaration.

As these co-ordinated initiatives acknowledge, airports have a vital role to play as aviation’s main public interface, with the potential to enhance the sustainability performance and perception of the industry.

In the same way, they also help to reinforce local brand values, credentials and identity – something Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) has been quick to grasp.

Airport efficiency and vibrancy

“As the first and last touchpoints for visitors to our city, HKIA is a reflection of Hong Kong people’s values, where the airport’s efficiency and vibrancy is a great source of pride for Hong Kong and its people,” says Airport Authority Hong Kong CEO, Fred Lam.

Looking to evolve from a ‘city airport’ to an ‘airport city’, HKIA is currently expanding to meet regional demand, with the goal of handling 100 million passengers and nine million tonnes of cargo a year by 2030. At the same time, the airport authority has pledged to make HKIA the world’s “greenest airport”.

Benoy has worked as design consultant on HKIA’s new Terminal 1 Annex since 2015. The team’s task has been to integrate a design and facilities that will enable capacity expansion, while supporting HKIA’s sustainability initiatives and targets.

The airport’s commitments include recent compliance with ISO 14001, the internationally recognised environmental performance standard, and a major acceleration in waste reduction.

Waste is one of Hong Kong’s most urgent environmental issues, and by 2021 HKIA aims to reduce, recycle or recover 50% of the waste it generates.

Keen to decouple business growth from greenhouse gas emissions, HKIA also runs a carbon reduction programme, recently achieving a 5.7% reduction in airport-wide carbon intensity (against 2015 levels).

Throughout, the airport has focused on improving energy performance by switching 100,000 light fixtures to LEDs, installing a cloud-based building analytics system, and replacing chillers and pump sets with more efficient models.

Other efficiency schemes, embedded in Benoy’s Annex design, include multiple skylights for natural daylight and static smoke extraction; waste-water recovery technology; and facilities for electric vehicles in airside areas.

And as the airport looks ahead to its Three-runway System (3RS) project, conservation measures are being devised to safeguard local wildlife. In particular, HKIA has pledged to protect the Chinese white dolphins in the surrounding estuary via dedicated ‘exclusion zones’.

Singapore’s sparkling innovations

Singapore Changi Airport is one of the region’s leading promotors of sustainability initiatives. Terminal 4, opened in 2018, and the landmark international attraction Jewel, opened last year, have pushed the boundaries of green and experiential airport design.

Since opening, T4 has won a Prix Versailles and Singapore Good Design Mark, and a Green Mark Gold Plus award for environmental performance. It’s also received multiple five-star ratings from Skytrax, while Changi Airport overall has been rated Skytrax World’s Best Airport for seven years running.

As Concept Design Architect and Interior Designer for T4, Benoy helped to reimagine the boundaries between the airport and its city context. Livable space is a key theme, with passengers enjoying dynamic interiors, artwork, interactive exhibits, street cuisine and retail.

The design also integrates Singapore’s garden landscape, featuring a green wall and over 500,000 plants to create a sense of wellbeing and calm.

Transparency and openness are key contributors to T4’s sustainability performance. Pervasive natural light and glass atria help to increase visibility and sightlines, while LEDs optimise energy efficiency and reduce operational costs, in line with benchmarks agreed with the Singapore Green Building Council.

Materials are locally sourced and recycled, although large structural spans minimise the overall amount of material used. Water management, meanwhile, includes the recycling of condensate water for irrigation.

Automation is another key element, with innovative Fast and Seamless Travel (FAST) initiatives, automated check-in, bag-drop, boarding and biometrics enabling smooth and efficient passenger flows.

In fact, T4 is a test case for airport automation, leading in principle to reduced workforce requirements and associated volume.

Jewel Changi Airport further enforces the gateway’s green credentials through the extensive use of natural light, unparalleled biophilia, and innovative engineering.

Designed by Safdie Architects, with interior design, retail and aviation facility planning by Benoy, Jewel comprises 137,000sqm of retail, F&B and leisure space. Its key features include a live rain forest, canopy park, and the world’s largest indoor waterfall.

Delighting passengers and tourists alike, Jewel’s design, like T4’s, has received industry awards and plaudits. Notably, Jewel’s chiller plant efficiency scheme, which is targeting operating efficiency of 0.56 kW/tonne, has been awarded Singapore’s prestigious Green Mark sustainability standard.

Above all, Jewel Changi Airport and Terminal 4 offer a wholly unique passenger experience, which is where Benoy believes it can make the biggest contribution to airport sustainability. Because sustainability isn’t just about environmentally friendly methods and materials. It’s also about creating a sense of place and belonging. It’s about providing a comfortable, convenient and stress-free environment, enabling passengers to relax and enjoy a seamless connection with the surrounding urban environment.

Employing a design ethos called ‘Airports for People’, Benoy takes an experience-led approach which puts the passenger at the heart of all planning and development.

The aim is to optimise airport capacity, enable ease of access and wayfinding, and increase commercial revenue, leading to long-term operational and economic value.

Because only through people-centric designs can airports provide a truly enjoyable and livable experience. An experience which, as HKIA, Changi T4 and Jewel demonstrate, points the way to a more sustainable future for airports in Asia-Pacific and beyond.

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