Image © Vyonyx

Suffering from crippling congestion at its famous Heathrow Airport, the British government recently put out a call for a modern design solution. Gensler, an international architectural firm that’s designed hotels and stadiums around the world, recently unveiled its pitch: a floating airport that would be built not on the shoreline, but right in the middle of the River Thames. Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time architects have suggested a floating airport in the very same location, but there might be good reason why such an idea has never come to pass.

floating airport, architecture, design, London, Heathrow Airport, London Britannia Airport, Thames River
Image © Vyonyx

Gensler’s concept is intended to be a rebuttal to last year’s proposal by Foster + Partners, which included a airport and transport hub located on the banks of the Thames estuary. Not to be outdone, Gensler’s concept reportedly eliminates the need for the creation of an artificial island in the middle of the river. (Some have even suggested building the island out of trash). Instead, “we’re going to float the scheme on giant platforms,” explained Ian Mulcahey, the firm’s global head of planning. While this may have a smaller environmental impact than a trash island or digging up the ancient riverbed to pour massive concrete pylons, calling the floating airport scheme “environmentally-friendly” could be a bit of a stretch.

The new London Britannia Airport (Gensler’s proposed name) would instead feature four floating runways tethered to the seabed and departure concourses leading to underwater rail tunnels, which would connect passengers to central London as well as European rail networks. According to the firm, the design’s inherent flexibility creates a platform whereby runways can be floated in as required and taken away for maintenance in the future. The concept allows for future expansion to accommodate 6 runways when required.

The airport has also been designed to generate much of its own power from marine turbines situated within, and adjacent to the floating runways. While the idea of a self-sufficient airport is wonderful, viability is uncertain. Tidal power is still in its infancy in the UK, not to mention that the Thames hardly enjoys the same powerful currents as the open ocean.

Gensler also claims that the floating airport’s river location would not only minimize noise disruption to existing communities while enabling 24 hour passenger arrival and departure, but it also avoids any demolition of homes. But this doesn’t appear to account for wildlife communities—the fish, birds, and other creatures currently living in the estuary would be pretty disturbed by jumbo jets landing over their head all day.

The best part of Gensler’s design is the fact that it includes a creative reclamation of the Heathrow Airport property should their plan be accepted. They propose recycling the land and buildings into an eco city – Heathrow Gardens – that can utilize the existing infrastructure to provide additional homes for 300,000 people and employment for over 200,000.

+ Gensler

via World Architecture News