Suvarnabhumi Airport / Bangkok, Thailand/ 1995‑2006
Size: 6,060,100 sq ft / 563,000 sq m
Status: Completed 2006
Collaborators: Werner Sobek; Matthias Schuler
Recognition: AIA Chicago Chapter Award; New Wonders of the World, Conde Nast Traveler Magazine
The new Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok resulted from an international competition and established the basis of collaboration between Werner Sobek, Matthias Schuler, and Helmut Jahn. The task of creating a new gateway to Thailand in a tropical climate necessitated a new approach to architecture and engineering. Through the integration of disciplines, the complex problem resulted in a sophisticated, intelligent solution with a simple parti.
Bangkok’s international airport is one of the largest airports in the world, with more than 500,000 square meters of enclosed space. The arrival and departure halls are fully glazed, while the arched concourses combine glass and translucent membranes to form a macrostructure for varying circulation patterns and uses.
The airport achieves the architectural manifestation of ultimate clarity and efficiency: nothing must be added, and nothing may be removed.
A large trellis becomes the recognizable gesture for this new identity of modern Thailand, shading the glazed terminal building and part of the concourses below. It extends beyond the enclosed spaces to cover gardens which introduce arriving passengers to the lush beauty of the region.
Bangkok’s high ambient temperatures and humidity levels place extraordinary demands on the building envelope to control solar gains. The sheds in the main terminal use fritted glass with 95% opacity to the north and solid panels to the south, limiting solar gain to 1%. The cantilevered louvered roof shades the forty-meter-high vertical glazing from direct sunlight. In the concourses, transparent glazing and translucent panels alternate along the length of the space. To meet the requirements of high transparency and protection from low latitude sun, the frit density increases as the glazing ascends. The three-layer translucent membrane similarly limits solar gain and sound transmission while allowing ambient natural light to fill the interior space.
The concourse design takes advantage of the natural stratification of air by conditioning only the lower 2.5 meters of the space with radiant floor cooling and displacement air systems. Verification of the thermal and energy approach was attained through extensive modeling and simulation prior to execution. A one-third scale simulation was done in an existing tennis hall using smoke injections to visualize and confirm the stratification concept, in addition to laboratory and on-site measurements of the façade energy-transfer parameters. Finally, a full-scale mockup of a concourse bay solidified the results of the energy analysis.
The integration of architecture and engineering enables each element to supersede its conventional role. Steel, concrete, glass, and membrane operate in unison within architectural, structural, and environmental parameters. The combination of innovative envelope materials with a precise cooled-floor system ensures occupant comfort and reduces the cooling power to 60% of a conventional system.