Team BIG+HOK Wins Global Zurich Airport Competition With Timber Design

June 21, 2022

Selected from 10 global competition entries, the winning proposal for the largest dock of the internationally acclaimed Zurich airport is comprised predominantly of solid regional wood. The new Dock A and adjacent buildings designed by BIG, HOK, 10:8 architects, engineer Buro Happold, timber experts Pirmin Jung and aviation consultant NACO, seek to strengthen the airport’s continued status as the gateway of Switzerland.

Since its opening in the 1950’s, Zurich Airport has become one of the most important aviation hubs in Europe. Following the airport’s previous additions of Dock E, the Airside Center, and The Circle, an international twostage design competition was kicked off in 2020 to replace the aging Dock A and included proposals from Foster + Partners, Grimshaw Architects, and SOM. Expected to open in 10 years, the new Dock A- which includes Schengen and Non-Schengen gates, airside retail, lounges, offices, the new air traffic control tower, and an extension of the immigration hall – will be the next milestone in the airport's expansion.

"The 'Raumfachwerk' proposal was the most convincing from a sustainable, operational, and economic point of view, but also from an urban planning and architectural point of view" says Andreas Schmid, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Flughafen Zürich AG.    

The name says it all: Space and structure get fully integrated and result in a highly functional and flexible design. The backbone of the project is formed by a structure that is not just load bearing, but defines and adapts the space, creates a unique atmosphere, and provides a distinctive identity true to its place and era. This project marks not only a new milestone for Zurich Airport but for the entire aviation. The jury was delighted and grateful to endorse such a groundbreaking project that will help to revive sustainable wood construction for great infrastructural projects.” Prof. Harry Gugger, Chairman of the Jury.

Based on the Team’s concept of the ‘Raumfachwerk’ – a robust yet flexible structural framework - the design proposal celebrates the passenger experience and movement through the airport. Located adjacent to the existing Airside Center and Terminal 1, the new Dock A is defined by two main areas: the central hub with shopping, airport services for arriving and departing passengers and vertical circulation, and the pier with the gates, waiting areas and the fixed links connecting to the planes.

“As airports grow and evolve and as international guidelines and safety requirements change, airports tend to become more and more complex: Frankensteins of interconnected elements, patches and extensions. For the new main terminal of Zurich Airport, we have attempted to answer this complex challenge with the simplest possible response: A mass timber space frame that is structural design, spatial experience, architectural finish, and organizational principle in one. The striking structure is made from locally sourced timber, and the long sculptural body of the roof is entirely clad in solar shingles turning sunlight into a power source. A simple yet expressive design – rooted in tradition and committed to innovation - embodying the cultural and natural elements of Swiss architecture.” Bjarke Ingels, Founder & Creative Director, BIG.    

To enhance the passenger experience, the spaces within the new terminal use daylight as a natural wayfinding system. A linear skylight - created by the unfolding roof of the pier - widens toward the central hub and opens up into the atrium where all departing, arriving, and transferring passengers meet. By placing the control tower in its center, the tower is experienced from the inside as a beacon that creates a sense of place, akin to a town square rather than an airport.

Arriving passengers are guided towards the hub of Dock A – which is split across seven floors which are visually connected through the generous light-filled atrium. Passenger flows are funneled through the atrium that connects all floors via stairs, escalators and elevators - from the underground immigration hall to all arrival and departure levels, and the lounges on the top floors of the central hub.    

A contemporary, pared-back material palette, the structure, floors, and ceilings of Dock A are envisioned with timber as the main material. As a renewable local resource, this material choice allows for efficient prefabrication during the construction process while paying homage to the long-standing local tradition of wood construction in Switzerland. The main loadbearing system of the building is based on V-shaped timber columns - providing a structural function while also serving as a reference both the iconic Swiss alpine landscapes and the centuries-old tradition of timber construction and traditional pitched roofs. Arriving passengers will be welcomed by this distinctly local architecture that showcases high-quality craftmanship while underscoring the airport’s pledge to sustainability.    

Dock A’s roof will be covered with PV panels while integrated shading will reduce solar heat gain and maintenance requirements, and a combination of water and air-based cooling and heating systems will improve the building’s energy demand.

“Despite the complex framework conditions of the existing structure, the design of the new Dock A aims to provide the most intuitive routing possible to bring travelers to their airport gates – and thus their final destinations – with efficiency and ease. Similarly, the visually calm material palette, natural light, and biophilia help redefine passenger expectations of the typical airport experience.” Martin Voelkle, Partner in Charge, BIG.