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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Terminal 2 Heathrow Airport in London, England by LUIS VIDAL + ARCHITECTS

September 7th, 2013 by Sumit Singhal


The new Terminal 2A at Heathrow Airport, now nearing completion, will give a sense of delight and ease to passengers which has been missing from air travel for too long. This delightful experience has been created in a project that has satisfied stringent requirements for timescale and budget.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited

  • Project: Terminal 2 Heathrow Airport
  • Location: London, England
  • Photography: LHR Airports Limited

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited

Designed by luis vidal + architects (LVA), the first time that the Spanish practice has worked in the UK, the new terminal makes generous use of natural light, enhancing the passenger experience. Navigation is much more instinctive than is usual and, in addition, for the first time in a major UK airport, passengers will have immediate access to the gate areas, which will be within sight of the retail and catering facilities. This should reduce passenger anxiety and make travelling a more pleasant experience.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited

luis vidal + architects has achieved this with a design which is bold in concept and rational in execution. The undulating roof maps the passenger journey through the terminal into three zones – check in, security and departures. The unique design uses simplistic repetition in its elements, making it both fast and economical to build.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited

The use of the natural lighting from the northern facing windows is diffused and reflected within the terminal by the use of a fabric roof lining. This is yet another first for HAL (Heathrow Airport Limited) and is just one element of an environmental strategy which aims to reduce the CO2 generated by the terminal by 40 per cent.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited


The new Terminal 2 is being built on the footprint of the old Terminal 2, the very first building at the airport and the old Queens Building. The pursuit of greater efficiency, and the need to service modern planes therefore dictated that these should be replaced. The project is part of the regeneration of the entire central area of Heathrow Airport, bounded by the two runways. All the terminals except Terminal 4 sit in this area. The current project is the redevelopment of Terminal 2, with a total floor area of 210,000 m2 and for a capacity of 20 M passengers per annum.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited


luis vidal + architects is a new name to the UK, but it is an established practice in Spain, with experience worldwide, in particular in the airport and healthcare sectors. The practice, set up in 2004, designed Zaragoza airport in Spain, opened for Expo 2008 and was a finalist for the Mies van der Rohe Award in 2009. Its founder, Luis Vidal was co-designer of Warsaw Airport (Poland) and project director of Terminal 4 of Barajas Airport (Madrid), on which the lead architect was Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited

luis vidal + architects has participated in the design of twelve hospitals, achieving awards such as the Future Health Project from the International Academy of Design and Health. The practice has a range of work at many different scales, from urbanism to industrial design and is currently developing projects in Denver (Spaceport Colorado, USA), Tokyo (Japan) and two hospitals (Quillota-Petorca Biprovincial and Marga Marga Provincial) in Santiago de Chile (Chile).

Luis Vidal himself has close ties with the UK, having studied architecture at the University of Greenwich. He has been a member of the RIBA since 1995.


While the idea of the undulating roof with its vertical north lights has remained virtually unchanged since the early days of the concept designed by LVA, a great deal of detailed work went into proving and refining the concept.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited

Part of this was because the fabric soffit that has been used on the roof interior was not one that had been used at Heathrow previously, except in one minor application. ‘We had to go through endless analyses to prove that it would work,’ said Luis Vidal. ‘We had to show that it could be cleaned, and that the acoustic properties were suitable.’

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited

Even more important, the architect had to demonstrate that the combination of the geometry and the reflective properties of the fabric would allow a good quality of light – bright but not glaring. Using north light was a good start. This provides the best quality of light in the northern hemisphere – the one with the least heat gain and the least dazzling. This is why artists’ studios are traditionally angled to use north light, and why saw-tooth factory roofs have the vertical lights facing north.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited

It was important to ensure that at all times passengers had a comfortable experience, so the architect carried out detailed computer simulations and also built mock-ups at the Bartlett school of architecture. In addition the architect devised a lighting system for the roof using subtle colour-changing LEDs. The lighting makes the roof form appear to float, adding to the sensation of lightness.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited

The temperature of the colour of the LEDs changes gradually through the day. This means that although the passengers will not be aware of the changes, they will be in a lighting environment that echoes the effects of a typical sky – warm colours at sunset and sunrise, a cool blue at midday, and an indigo blue at night. This should help to prevent some of the disorientation that comes with international travel, and will complement the actual sky which, unusually for air terminals, departing passengers will be able to see at all times.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited


The sequence of the roof, and the view of the final destination, will lead passengers through the terminal in a manner that is as instinctive and natural as possible. There will be no chicanes, no dark corners – and passengers will be able to see the departing aircraft as they progress through the terminal, both helping them with navigation and bringing back some of the excitement of air travel which has tended to vanish in the last few decades.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited


The continued commitment to sustainable construction on Terminal 2 began before any of the new building had been erected, with the demolition of its predecessor. More than 90% of the demolition material was re-used.

Terminal 2A has been designed to be as energy-efficient as possible. In addition to the use of natural light, there are large overhangs to provide shading on the East and West facades, so minimising solar gain. On the South façade there is a brise soleil consisting of aluminium solid tubes and metallic louvers.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited

In addition, there are a number of elements that will reduce the use of fossil fuels on the terminal. There are photovoltaic panels on the south facade, and there is a combined heat and cooling power plant set up to operate either with biomass or with gas.

Rainwater from the roof will be collected and used for non-potable uses. In addition, there are water abstraction bore holes both to provide water for flushing the WCs and exchanging heat with the power plant and the chalk aquifer in the subsoil.

In fact, Terminal 2, will be the world’s first airport terminal to be awarded BREEAM rating for its sustainable building design.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited


Increasingly the design of airport terminals is moving away from a bland international style to one that has a sense of place, so that passengers can see their time at the terminal as integral to their stay. How, though, does one create a sense of identity for such a diverse city as London?

Vidal may be particularly well-placed to deal with this question, since he came to London as a young man, with a fresher outlook than a native would have. ‘Even so, he said, ‘It is extremely difficult to convey what London is. It is probably the most multi-cultural city in the world. It is a destination for tourism and shopping, it is the financial hub of Europe. And Heathrow is the hub of the world in international transport.’

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited

The starting point for Vidal was to address the clichés that some visitors still cite –that food isn’t great and that it is always raining. The catering will be good. And in terms of the weather? ‘What you have to do is to open the building to respond purposely to the clichés,’ he said. ‘By opening the roof so that it becomes so transparent, you can see the sky. And we are acknowledging its position as a hub by allowing passengers to see the planes.’

And finally – no carpets! When Vidal was a young man he was taken aback by the habit of the British (one that has largely disappeared) of carpeting every room, including the bathroom. By using hard surfaces for all the flooring, he feels he is helping to banish that cliché as well.

Image Courtesy © LHR Airports Limited

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Categories: Airport, Terminal

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