“Building better journeys at Heathrow” is a £4billion airport redevelopment mission by British Airport Authorities (BAA). The new Terminal 5 was the springboard project for this, followed shortly by Terminals 1 and 3. More recently came the new Terminal 2 building, including key component Terminal 2B (T2B), the satellite pier through which passengers embark and disembark their flights. At a project cost of £590million T2B is the largest project ever undertaken airside at Heathrow.
Unlike airport terminals of the past that were notoriously loud, bright and full of echoing announcements, the vision for the whole of Terminal 2 was to provide a great passenger experience even before take-off. This was to be achieved by bringing airlines closer together, utilising more natural light in calming spaces and providing enhanced customer services.
The brief from the T2B project architect was to create a running series of “baffles” that would soften the look and feel of T2B’s spacious Central Atrium of the Satellite Pier, whilst remaining true to the promise of a modern, technologically progressive and sustainable environment.
A series of 42 tensile fabric ‘baffles’ were designed, engineered and installed to soften the light and acoustics inside the frenetic airport environment. Each of the double-skinned blade-shaped panels were suspended from the primary steel roof girders and spaced to allow natural light to filter through from the skylights above. Each baffle is completely bespoke, with sizes ranging from just 2.7m wide up to 20m wide and with a combined total surface area of 1500sqm.
With a strict 5kg per sqm load limit on the existing roof structure, the final product including any auxiliary lighting and fixings would need to fall within this limit.
Working within a live airport environment brought some unique logistical challenges to the project and with security being at it’s highest alert level, management of key personnel was a major element of our pre-site planning.
All previous design options had been rejected due to the extra loads they would impart to the existing roof structure. However, Fabric Architecture’s lightweight and durable tensile fabric design offered both an efficient and long lifespan solution that was in line with the brief. As a result, the design was incorporated in to the primary design statement and the subsequent tender documentation.
To overcome the load concerns, the Fabric Architecture Design Team created a unique, lightweight aluminium frame system onto which we ‘wrapped’ and tensioned the translucent silicone-coated woven glass fabric.
With the high security requirements of working air side at Heathrow, a detailed operations plan was established to ensure the smooth running of all installation and logistical processes. Project Managers organised timed delivery sequences for materials and specialist equipment and ensured that all members of the on-site team received security clearance and passes well in advance. Fabric Architecture installation engineers also worked at night to allow for other necessary works to take place in the terminal during the day.
When installation began, the fabric ceiling panels were delivered to site, as much in ‘kit-form’ as possible, with final assembly and adjustment on large tables in situ. This ensured the most efficient installation process and reduced the amount of time working at height. Using purpose-built, moveable A-frame supports, the 42 panels were moved into position and hoisted into the air by a custom-built pulley system.
Fabric Architecture is very proud to have been involved in Heathrow’s vision of “building better journeys”. Nearly a year after the official opening of Heathrow Terminal T2B, the ceiling panels continue to deliver on their original intention of reducing noise levels and bringing diffused light into the Central Atrium, contributing to a calm and enjoyable part of the traveller experience.
As the original Design Consultants, Fabric Architecture worked at concept stage to advise on fabric type and performance specification. This information was transposed by the client to other areas within the airport and now provides a practical and efficient specification benchmark for other interior commercial projects. Both Fab Arc and the client are delighted to see the final product in situ, being admired by an international audience in such an iconic setting.