Beijing’s great sense of mission

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

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The Moodie Report is in Beijing, China, where in less than eight months the 2008 Olympic Games will take place.

Everywhere you go here the excitement is palpable; construction is powering ahead across the city and its surrounds; and there is a very real sense of mission among the people.

Beijing Capital International Airport’s new Terminal 3, opened last Friday, encapsulates all those dynamics. When the eyes of the world gaze on China later this year the host city is determined that its national gateway will provide the consummate showcase.

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The triangular skylights in the roof stick up from the exterior of the roof like scales, completing the airport’s dragon-like look. At the front of the terminal (above), a giant ‘turtle’ covers the car parking and station for the new fast-speed metro line (16 minutes to and from the city) which opens in coming weeks.

 The Moodie Report sees its share of new airports and new terminals. Inevitably there is much hyperbole around them. Some live up to it, some fall short. This one simply transcends it.

Has the world ever seen anything like this stunning architectural achievement, constructed on a scale unprecedented in aviation industry history?

Consider a few sound bites: the US$2.7 billion terminal is the largest covered stucture ever built, according to its architect Sir Norman Foster.

The building spans 3.25 kilometres and covers 98 hectares of floor space. Try to conjure up the image of 170 football matches being played simultaneously in front of your eyes and you start to sense the space.

“To get an idea of the scale, imagine all five Heathrow terminals under one roof and then add an extra +17% of floor space,” Sir Norman told reporters last Friday. “It has taken Heathrow 50 years to grow to its present scale – in Beijing the process should be completed in less than five. Here is society changing by the power of 10.”

Or perhaps by the power of 100. The contrast with the dowdy old Terminal 2 underlines what has been achieved here. Where T2 is all low ceilings, crowded facilities and tired shops, T3 is a towering, undulating, wildly expansive construction ablaze with the red of the dragon, which the main terminal building symbolises.

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The triangular skylights are cut into the roof at regular intervals to allow natural light through, creating a dazzling vibrancy of colour and illumination.

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Down in the international area the red steel roof gives way to yellow, as passengers enter the dragon’s ‘tail’. Huge white colums reach up from the floor to the roof, like giant candles supporting the sweep of the tail.

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There’s a profound sense of place, featuring beautiful water features and gardened areas built around traditional Chinese buildings drawn from different parts of the country.

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Right at the tip of the dragon’s tail a huge glass superstructure is all that separates the passengers from the tarmac and the runways beyond. Here you can sip on a glass of Great Wall wine with a local snack, steak or pasta and gaze out in sheer wonderment at the scale of this place.

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Is it possible for an airport to achieve what this one’s creators set out to do – to pay homage to the architectural and cultural marvel of Beijing’s Forbidden City? The world will judge that soon enough. But what a grand ambition to have. And what a glorious new gateway to China is now in place.

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