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A challenging brief with a double ambition meant that the 2010 redevelopment of the Wellington International Airport Passenger Terminal required a unique and innovative design.

The first task was to meet a set of complex technical specifications that included functionality, planning efficiency, economy in building materials and optimisation of the available pocket building site, heavily constrained by aircraft choreography. In conjunction with external apron works, the project involved the expansion of interior floor area, new retailing, linkages from the recently reconfigured passenger processing area, and an increase to eight aerobridge-capable gates from the original six. The project encompassed 3500m2, of which 2017m2 was additional floor area, including the new terminal building.

Crucially, the brief also demanded the creation of a memorable visitor experience through a unique, edgy aesthetic that embodied a strong sense of place.

Connected strategically to the surrounding structures via a glass link that allowed the existing airport buildings to remain fully operational during construction, the new terminal building is a standalone structure. Its oscillating outline was derived from the indentations of aeroplane docks into the triangular site. The organic irregularity of this outline dovetailed with the concept of the building as a crusty, enigmatic rock – a gesture to the land’s geological past, recalling the craggy, sea-battered Wellington coast. A radical departure from airports worldwide, preoccupied with imagery of lightness and flight, the Rock terminal instead evokes the anchoring qualities of the land that rises to meet planes as they touch down and the coast that recedes away as they depart. Its copper finish provides unparalleled durability in a corrosive environment of sea air and aircraft fuel gases.

In contrast to the bland interiors that typify most international airports, the interior exudes warmth and resounds with personality. Honey-coloured macrocarpa ply softens theatrical strata of dark-stained panels fissured with light. Spaces unfold on varying levels and exploration is welcomed, with journeys gently modulated by a series of ramps. Travellers are able to enjoy areas that are engaging and restful, impressive and intimate.

A range of integrated design initiatives enhances the building’s environmental performance. These include the use of low-velocity air displacement through arrays of slotted panels to minimise mechanical plant, the retention of as many finishes as possible in the existing building, the use of ramps over mechanical options where possible for vertical circulation, a highly insulated building envelope and the selection of sustainable timbers for interior linings.
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