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Heathrow Terminal 5
Heathrow Airport, Harmondsworth, London, UK
associated engineer
Mott MacDonald
date  2002 - 2011, T5A/T5B opened March 2008, T5C opened June 2011
era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ050758
ICE reference number  HEW 2311
Heathrow is one of the world’s busiest airports, handling some 70m passengers and 1.5m tonnes of cargo in 2011. The site of a former sewage treatment plant was redeveloped and two rivers diverted during construction of its fifth passenger terminal (T5), which has capacity for 30m passengers a year. Its main structure is the biggest freestanding building in the UK (2014) and has a single-span curved roof.
London Heathrow Airport was begun in 1930, when British aeronautical engineer (Charles) Richard Fairey (1887-1956) developed the Great West Aerodrome on a 150-acre plot of land near the hamlet of Heath Row, or Heathrow, in Middlesex. It was requisitioned during World War II, briefly becoming RAF Heston. On 1st January 1946, the Air Ministry took possession of the aerodrome — London’s new civil airport — and it has been an international hub for air travel ever since.
T5 is Heathrow’s newest passenger terminal but its first one opened in 1955, when the Europa Building replaced earlier temporary accommodation. Later renamed Terminal 2, it was demolished in 2010, and is being redeveloped as the much larger Queen’s Terminal — T2A and T2B were topped out in April 2012. The Oceanic Terminal opened in 1961, becoming Terminal 3 in 1968, and has had several upgrades but will be closed after 2016. Terminal 1 opened in 1968, was extended in 2005, and is also due to close in 2016, to be replaced by T2C. T1 and T3 operations will be transferred to the new T2. Terminal 4 opened in 1986.
T5 is located at the west side of the airport, between the two runways, on the site of the disused Perry Oaks sludge disposal works. Design work began in 1989, with architect Richard Rogers Partnership (Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners from 2007), and engineers Arup (superstructures) and Mott MacDonald (substructures). During the 1990s, the scheme changed to accommodate differing constraints and security arrangements, and the site area was reduced to 260 hectares. The formal planning application was submitted on 17th February 1993.
A public inquiry into the T5 proposals began on 16th May 1995, amid protests from environmentalists and local residents. More than 70 groups and individuals took part in the proceedings, which concluded on 17th March 1999, after 525 days of sittings, making it the UK’s longest planning inquiry. Eventually, planning permission was granted on 20th November 2001, and construction commenced in September 2002. T5 also had the UK’s biggest single-site archaeological dig, which explored over 100 hectares of land and found more than 80,000 artefacts.
The size and complexity of T5’s infrastructure, which involved more than 60 contractors, 16 major projects and 147 smaller projects, dictated that a different approach was required. The T5 Agreement — a legally binding contract between the British Airports Authority plc (BAA) and all the main suppliers — was developed, whereby BAA carried the construction risks and allowed the contractors to concentrate on problem solving rather than avoiding potential litigation. It was designed as an enabling agreement that focused on principles, performance and the workforce.
The terminal comprises a main building, T5A, and two satellite buildings, T5B and T5C, with piled reinforced concrete basements up to 20m deep. With the 2007 National Air Traffic Service control tower (TQ066758), to the east, the buildings are part of a £4.3 billion wider campus for T5 that includes a landscaped motorway link road from the M25, a train station, the creation of two open rivers from previously culverted channels under the airport, plus the construction of over a square kilometre of high-strength concrete taxiways and aircraft pavements, an airside track transit system and an airside road tunnel with associated infrastructure.
The 18,500 tonne roof of T5A is a 396m long waveform, formed by 22 dynamically curved massive steel rafters clad with prefabricated cassettes of steel and intermittent glazing. The roof is 37m high and 176m wide with a span of 156m. It is supported on 22 pairs of 914mm diameter steel columns, inclined inwards at the top, forming structural trees to carry the rafters. The node that connects the tree ‘trunk’ with the ‘branches’ weighs 35 tonnes and can carry loads of up to 18,000kN. It is made from 150mm and 250mm thick steel plates, slotted together and bolted.
The steelwork was fabricated and assembled off-site, and transported to Heathrow in large sections, though no in situ welding was undertaken. In 2003, to circumvent on-site delays, erection of a full-scale arch of the roof and column arrangement was trialled at Dalton in North Yorkshire.
At Heathrow, T5A’s roof was erected in six full-width sections between April 2004 and March 2005. Standard craneage methods were not permitted, to keep airspace clear. So the arch of each section was assembled, clad and prestressed at ground level, with temporary frames used to position the column steel accurately. It was then jacked 30m vertically into position and bolted to the column branches. As each section was completed, the frames were rolled along to erect the next section.
Results of wind tunnel testing of the roof’s structural geometry were analysed dynamically over time to model the significant deflections produced by asymmetrical wind loading. The outward force at the base of the columns at apron level, resulting from the self-weight of the structure, is resisted by steel beams in the concrete apron tying the column bases together and reducing bending moments in the roof rafters.
The columns are set behind the wrap-around glazed façade, which inclines outwards at the top and consists of more than 30,000 sq m of glass panels coated with a sunlight filter to reduce heat loads. Solar gain is further reduced by canopies and low eaves on the longest (east and west) elevations.
An energy efficient displacement heating and air-conditioning system was developed for the building, as natural ventilation would have been compromised by aircraft noise and pollution. Heating is powered by combined heat and power and natural gas boilers, and cooling by electricity, all controlled from a separate energy centre.
The roof, columns and façade enclose an open space within which is a freestanding multi-level steel frame structure, able to be dismantled and reconfigured as required. The separate structure contains departure and arrival concourses, check-in desks, commercial and retail units, offices and passenger lounges on two levels with plant rooms, baggage handling and other associated facilities below.
The T5B satellite was constructed at the same time as T5A, along with the groundwork for T5C, both to the east of the main building. T5B is of post-tensioned flat slab construction — 442m long, 42m wide and 19.5m high — and is built to handle large aircraft such as the Airbus A380. T5C is of similar design and was completed in 2011. Aircraft are loaded and unloaded at stands around three sides of the main building, and on both sides of the two satellites — 60 aircraft stands in total.
Passengers transfer between T5A and its satellites on a purpose-built transit system of driverless trains running on sub-surface tracks. A personal rapid transit system, the first of its kind in the world, operates a fleet of driverless passenger vehicles on a dedicated route between the business car park and T5A. Passenger movements inside the terminal have been optimised to minimise queuing, including the installation of facial recognition systems.
A new six-platform train station has been constructed in the basement of T5A, for the London Underground Piccadilly Line, Heathrow Express and surface rail. Services were extended to the Piccadilly Line and Heathrow Express by constructing four new tunnels, 1.7-1.9km long and lined with fire-resistant concrete rings, to join with the existing Heathrow lines. The new length of the Piccadilly Line is the first extension to London’s Tube network since 1999.
Twin 6.2km airside road tunnels of 8.2m bore were completed in March 2005, to provide vehicular access between the airport’s central terminal area (T1, T2 and T3) and the T5 campus. The road link to the M25 opened in April 2008. Works for it included a realignment of Heathrow’s western perimeter road.
Surface water run-off from the T5 campus is conveyed via an outfall tunnel to a reservoir at Clockhouse Lane Pit (TQ075728) 2km south of the airport. The 4.1km long 2.9m diameter outfall was constructed using a new Austrian tunnelling method. Surface water abstracted from the reservoir, which also receives water from Heathrow's other four terminals, is treated and chlorinated to provide non-potable ‘grey’ water for T5, reducing its demand on potable supplies.
Two man-made watercourses, the Longford River and the Duke of Northumberland's River — built to supply royal palaces in the 16th and 17th centuries — were diverted to the south of T5 and realigned over a 3km stretch. The work included 5km precast concrete walls, 4km in situ reinforced concrete walls and 1.5km earth embankments.
Project planning used an integrated 4D (3D plus time) system of modelling to derive the entire construction sequence as a series of linked animations. This reduced costs and shortened the original programme by six months. The terminal complex was completed on time and within budget, through the efforts of 60,000 people working 100m man-hours on site.
A total of 6.3m cu m of soil were moved during the construction of T5, which covers 300,000 sq m and contains 80,000 tonnes of structural steel. The complex includes 175 elevators and 131 escalators. The multi-storey passenger car park hold 3,800 vehicles.
T5’s baggage handling network is the largest single-terminal system in Europe, with 18km of luggage conveyor belts capable of processing 70,000 items a day. However, on opening day, a series of operational difficulties led to more than 300 flights being cancelled and thousands of bags going astray.
Queen Elizabeth II opened the terminal officially on 14th March 2008, and passenger operations commenced on 27th March. Since then, T5 has won many awards, including the Supreme Award for Structural Engineering Excellence and the Structural Award for Commercial Structures from the Institution of Structural Engineers, and the RIBA National Award.
Architect: Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Construction management: British Airports Authority plc
Services engineer: DSSR
Water engineer: Black & Veatch
Quantity surveyors: Turner & Townsend, and E.C. Harris
Contractors: Mace, and AMEC
Contractor (T5A): Laing O'Rourke
Contractor (T5C): Carillion
Contractor (M25 link road): Balfour Beatty
Contractor (outfall tunnel): Morgan Vinci
Steelwork (T5A roof): Severfield Rowan
Steelwork (T5A roof nodes):
Corus Process Engineering, and William Cook Burton
Research: ECPK
"T5 Goes Live" by Dervilla Mitchell, in Ingenia, Issue 34, pp.21-28, London, March 2008
reference sources   CEH Lond

Heathrow Terminal 5