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Kansai International Airport terminal building
Senshukukokita, Izumisano, Osaka Bay, Honshu Island, Japan
associated engineer
Ove Arup & Partners
Peter Rice
date  1988 - 4th September 1994
UK era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  HM089875
Kansai International Airport is one of the largest construction projects in the world. It is built on an artificial island and is designed to meet stringent seismic and wind loading criteria. It remained undamaged following earthquakes in 1995 and 2011, and is recognisable for its elongated terminal building.
Kansai is the second largest region in Japan and has a population of around 20 million people. The existing airport had reached the limit of expansion, being constrained by urban development and mountains. It was decided to move the airport offshore, with aircraft take-offs and landings over water. This minimised disruption and noise pollution to inhabited areas on land, allowing 24-hour operation — the first airport in Japan to do so.
Construction began with the manmade island, situated 5km from the eastern shore of Osaka Bay, some 40km south west of Osaka city. The island is 4.4km long and 1.25km wide, covering 510 hectares. It is connected to the mainland by a 3.75 km bridge, with a roadway on its upper level and two railway lines on its lower level.
Artificial islands are not new to Japan and there are several in Osaka Bay, including Kobe Port Island (built 1966-81) and Rokko Island (1973-92). However, the island for Kansai International Airport is situated in much deeper water, at 18.5m deep. The seabed here consists of 20m of soft alluvial clay over more than 400m of diluvial clay. It took three years and 178 million cu m of material, quarried from nearby mountains, to form the island's platform. To accelerate consolidation of the alluvial clay before construction commenced, including excavations for an 8m deep basement, one million vertical sand drains were installed at 2.5m centres over the entire island.
Apart from the terminal and the runway, the island's airport facilities include maintenance hangars, cargo handling, fuel storage, car parking, a railway station, a shopping centre and a harbour. At full capacity, the airport copes with 160,000 aircraft movements per year on its single 3.5km runway. It accommodates 25 million passengers annually and has 41 aircraft spots, each with a boarding bridge.
However, the most recognizable part of Kansai International Airport is the stainless steel-clad passenger terminal, which was commissioned in 1988 following an international architectural competition. From above the terminal resembles a glider, with the main building as the ‘body’ and the arrival/departure gates housed in the terminal’s ‘wings’. It was designed by Renzo Piano (b.1937) and Noriaki Okabe (b.1931), both of Renzo Piano Building Workshop, with input from Ove Arup & Partners' Peter Rice (1935-92) — who died before the project was completed — and Kimiaki Minai of architect Nikken Sekkei Ltd. Ove Arup & Partners International Ltd was the consultant for the structural, building services and fire engineering.
As the island is founded on clay, differential settlement caused by construction and the diverse loads from the buildings was anticipated. It was counteracted by installing hydraulic jacks at each column to adjust the levels. To protect the building finishes, jacking was used when the differential settlement exceeded 1:400 in the main building and 1:600 in the wings.
The main building is 300m long and has four storeys. Its north side has an airy atrium space, 25m wide and 30m high, that extends the full length of the building and provides a visual interface between the land (non-runway) side, the working core of the building and the aircraft (air or runway side). Between the atrium and the wings each floor has a separate use — international arrivals at ground level, domestic arrivals and departures on the first floor, retail and restaurants on the second floor and international departures on the top floor.
The building is steel framed, with typical spans of 14.4m and concrete floors cast on steel deck plates. The curved roof is formed from three-dimensional triangular section welded tubular steel trusses (erected April 1993) spanning across the building between splayed supports 82.5m apart. The trusses are set at 4m centres and secondary beams span continuously across the top of the trusses, forming plastic hinges close to their support points. On the land side of the atrium, a single prop supports the truss from a frame, and the roof cantilevers out 15m over the access and drop off areas. Steel members are connected with high-strength friction grip bolts. The roof has transverse panels of glazing and the atrium is fully glazed.
The undulating roof profile of the main building was derived by studying the dynamic airflows inside the building. Its cross-section is formed from a series of arcs with differing radii. Its form directs air from the land side to the runway side without using closed conduits. Blade-like deflectors guide the air jets from supply nozzles on the land side of the passenger concourse along the ceiling, providing draught-free macroclimate control. This means at or above 20°C in winter and at or below 26°C in summer, with 25-55% relative humidity. Check-in desks, waiting areas, concessions, offices and the building’s end walls have individual recirculating air-handling systems to control the local microclimate.
The wings of the terminal cover 1.7km [Arup Journal has 1.6km, 70 Wonders has 1.8km, most other sources have 1.7km] — the world’s longest building. The undivided interior space occupies one million cubic metres. Passengers can access the arrival and departure lounges for their aircraft on foot or by shuttle train from the main building. The wings have a full-length curved glass façade facing the aircraft, providing both light and orientation to the interior. A small overhang above the façade and a reflective coating on the glazing minimise solar gain. Temperatures are moderated by hot or cold air blown upwards over the inside of the glass. Wall-mounted air conditioning units control the ventilation, humidity and temperature elsewhere in the wings.
Steel supports span 20m from the air side glazing to the columns at the base of the wings, forming a half portal frame. To keep the slender wing-like appearance the overall structure is a lattice shell of hollow steel members that spans longitudinally, with ribs at 7.2m centres. The curves of the long wings are in effect the upper portion of a 16.6km diameter circle, with a radius tilted at 68° with respect to the horizon. This almost imperceptible curvature ensures that the control tower’s lateral line of vision is maintained. The roof is clad with 82,000 identical stainless steel panels. The overall shape is based on a toroidal (rotated) interlocking geometry of two-dimensional panels.
The main building and the wings have high levels of natural daylighting, reducing energy consumption. Ambient light levels are maintained at 200-300 lux. The public areas are column-free spaces with expanses of glazing and exposed ceilings. The lighting, public address systems, fire alarms, CCTV, signage and flight information are contained within pillars known as ‘technical trees’, which are dotted around the interiors. Up-lighters and handrail lighting along escalators provide additional artificial lightning.
The terminal was completed in less than 36 months. Construction of the foundation raft began in May 1991, and the 300,000 square metre building had been completed by July 1994 at a cost of 15 billion Japanese Yen (about £100m). The terminal opened to air traffic on 4th September 1994. In 2001, the American Society of Civil Engineers cited Kansai International Airport as one of the ten civil engineering achievements with the greatest positive impact on life in the 20th century.
A second 4km runway was added on its own artificial island 4.8km long and up to 1.3km wide, covering 540 hectares, built just north of the original island and connected to it by an aircraft taxiway 300m wide. It opened on 2nd August 2007. The airport now has 66 aircraft spots.
Japan is in an area where continental and oceanic plates collide, causing earthquakes and tsunamis. It is also subject to hurricane force winds. Consequently, it has the most severe seismic design regulations in the industrialised world. The Building Standard Law of Japan sets two design levels — Level 1 is an earthquake with a statistical probability of occurring once during the design life of the building, and Level 2 is an extreme event earthquake. A building must be able to withstand Level 1 without structural damage or significant building fabric damage, while remaining serviceable. A Level 2 event may cause loss of the building, with the structure on the point of collapse.
To comply with the regulations, the terminal buildings were subjected to comprehensive dynamic analyses. Three-dimensional models of the roof structures, the superstructure and the ground were assessed for various seismic and wind events. The design was put to the test for real four months after opening. On 17th January 1995, an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter Scale struck the island of Awajishima in Osaka Bay — 30km from Kansai International Airport — with devastating results and the loss of 6,000 lives. Kansai island suffered some localised perimeter settlement but the terminal building was undamaged.
The strongest earthquake, on 11th March 2011, affected the north east coast of Japan and triggered a tsunami that killed almost 20,000 people and resulted in a nuclear accident at Fukushima.
Architect: Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Co-architects: Nikken Sekkei Ltd, Aéroports de Paris
Research: ECPK
"Renzo Piano Building Workshop: Complete works, Volume One” by Peter Buchanan, Phaidon, London, (1993) reprinted 2007
“Kansai International Airport" in The Seventy Architectural Wonders of Our World, edited by Neil Parkyn, Thames & Hudson, London 2002
“Peter Rice” by André Brown, Thomas Telford, 2001
“Kansai International Airport Terminal Building” by Philip Dilley and Alistair Guthrie, in Arup Journal, Ove Arup Partnership, London, 1995
reference sources   AEI

Kansai International Airport terminal building