Mark Nicholls explains how Kuwait is following other Middle Eastern nations by modernising its international airport with a vast new terminal as it strives to become a major player in the region’s aviation market.
It is now 20 years since the Gulf War, which was fought to liberate the State of Kuwait from invading Iraqi forces. The sovereign Arab state was left severely damaged and it took years to repair the infrastructure and the country’s oil industry, which has at its disposal the world’s fifth largest reserves and accounts for 95% of Kuwait’s export revenues. Kuwait International Airport (KWI) is the state’s sole aviation gateway and as such is vitally important to the continued success of the economy. It was extensively rebuilt between 1999 and 2001, with an expanded terminal and several other infrastructure improvements. The Kuwait Air Force is also represented here at the co-located Al Mubarak Air Base.
Passenger numbers have steadily increased at KWI over the past decade, and in 2010 it handled 8,332,857 travellers and dealt with 79,350 commercial aircraft movements. But as with most other parts of the Middle East, these numbers are expected to continue to rise rapidly and so further expansion is necessary.
21st century terminal
A significant increase in capacity is now planned, as well as the establishment of a new regional air hub in the Gulf – the project’s strategic aims will be matched by a state-of-the-art terminal building, which will provide the highest levels of comfort for passengers and will set a new environmental benchmark for airport buildings.
On October 3, 2011, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation revealed that the new terminal, designed by Foster+Partners, is to be built, with work commencing in 2012. It will increase capacity to 13mppa in its first phase, with an option for this to rise to 25mppa, and is due to be finished by 2016. It will be located to the south of the current terminal and will have new access connections from the Seventh Ring Road.
The terminal’s trefoil plan comprises three symmetrical wings of departure gates, with each point extending 1,968ft (600m) from the centre, and will include two airside hotels. Each facade spans three quarters of a mile (1.2km) and all extend from a dramatic 82ft (25m) high central space. The building will have a single roof canopy, punctuated by glazed openings that filter daylight, while deflecting direct solar radiation. The canopy extends to shade a generous entrance plaza and is supported by tapering concrete columns – their fluid forms draw inspiration from the contrast between the solidity of the stone and movement of Kuwait’s traditional Dhow sailing boats.
The project is targeting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold level, and is aiming to be the first passenger terminal in the world to attain this degree of environmental accreditation. The concrete structure provides thermal mass and the roof incorporates a large expanse of photovoltaic panels to harvest solar energy. Ultimately KWI could be further expanded to a capacity of 50mppa. Looking further ahead, there are plans to add a metro connection to Kuwait City as well as the addition of a third runway.
Speaking for Foster+Partners, Nikolai Malsch said: “We look forward to continuing to work with the Ministry of Public Works and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation Kuwait on the planning and design of the new airport. We have a shared goal to create a terminal that is an exemplar of sustainable design and will establish Kuwait as the region’s leading air hub.”
Kuwait has come a long way since the dark days of the Gulf War, and is now set to compete strongly with the other large airports in the region, notably those in the UAE, and will soon be a highly viable hub for the whole region.