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New sustainable timber jetty for Zurich Airport

Above: CGI of interior of new jetty - with V-shaped timber load-bearing columns - at Zurich Airport (Illustration by Imigo)

Selected from among 10 global competition entries, the winning proposal for the largest dock of the internationally acclaimed Zurich Airport is composed predominantly of solid regional wood.

The new Dock A and adjacent buildings designed by BIG, HOK, 10:8 architects, engineer Buro Happold, timber experts Pirmin Jung and aviation consultant NACO, seek to strengthen the airport’s continued status as the gateway of Switzerland. Since its opening in the 1950s, Zurich Airport has become one of Europe’s most important aviation hubs. Following the airport’s previous additions of Dock E, the Airside Centre and the Circle, an international two-stage design competition was kicked off in 2020 to replace the aging Dock A. The competition included proposals from Foster + Partners, Grimshaw Architects and SOM.

Expected to open in 10 years, the new Dock A—which includes Schengen and Non-Schengen gates, airside retail, lounges, offices, the new air traffic control tower and an extension of the immigration hall—will be the next milestone in the airport’s expansion.

“The ‘Raumfachwerk’ proposal was the most convincing from a sustainable, operational and economic point of view, but also from an urban planning and architectural point of view,” said Andreas Schmid, chairman of the board of directors of airport owner and operator Flughafen Zürich AG.

“The name says it all: Space and structure get fully integrated and result in a highly functional and flexible design,” said Professor Harry Gugger, chairman of the jury. “The backbone of the project is formed by a structure that is not just load bearing, but defines and adapts the space, creates a unique atmosphere and provides a distinctive identity true to its place and era. This project marks not only a new milestone for Zurich Airport, but for the entire aviation industry. The jury was delighted and grateful to endorse such a ground-breaking project that will help to revive sustainable wood construction for great infrastructure projects.”

Based on the team’s concept of the ‘Raumfachwerk’—a robust yet flexible structural framework—the design proposal celebrates the passenger experience and movement through the airport. Located adjacent to the existing Airside Centre and Terminal 1, the new Dock A is defined by two main areas: a central hub and a pier. The central hub features shopping, airport services for arriving and departing passengers, and vertical circulation. The pier includes gates, waiting areas and fixed links connecting to the planes.

“As airports grow and evolve and as international guidelines and safety requirements change, airports tend to become more and more complex: 'Frankensteins' of interconnected elements, patches and extensions,” said Bjarke Ingels, BIG founder and creative director. “For the new main terminal of Zurich Airport, we have attempted to answer this complex challenge with the simplest possible response: A mass timber space frame that is structural design, spatial experience, architectural finish and organizational principle in one. The striking structure is made from locally sourced timber, and the long sculptural body of the roof is entirely clad in solar shingles turning sunlight into a power source. A simple yet expressive design—rooted in tradition and committed to innovation—embodying the cultural and natural elements of Swiss architecture.”

“With its elegant and sustainable timber design, the new Dock A and Root will be a landmark for both the Zurich Airport and the world’s aviation sector,” said Peter Ruggiero, design principal with HOK. “We have collaborated with BIG and the entire team to design an addition to the terminal that illustrates the airport’s commitment to environmental stewardship and that respects centuries of local building craft and tradition. It will provide an exceptional experience for passengers as well as enhance the airport’s vibrant commercial centre.”

To enhance the passenger experience, the spaces within the new terminal use daylight as a natural wayfinding system. A linear skylight created by the unfolding roof of the pier widens toward the central hub and opens into the atrium, where all departing, arriving and transferring passengers meet. Placing the control tower here, in the centre of the space, enables travellers to experience the tower from the inside as a beacon that creates a sense of place—more akin to a town square than an airport.

Arriving passengers are guided toward the hub of Dock A, which includes seven floors visually connected through the generous, light-filled atrium. Passengers flow through the atrium, which connects all floors via stairs, escalators and elevators, from the underground immigration hall to all arrival and departure levels as well as lounges on the top floors. The contemporary, pared-back material palette envisions timber as the primary material for Dock A’s structure, floors and ceilings. As a renewable local resource, timber pays homage to the long-standing local tradition of wood construction in Switzerland while allowing for efficient prefabrication during the construction process. The building’s main load-bearing structure is based on V-shaped timber columns that reference iconic Swiss Alpine landscapes and the centuries-old tradition of timber construction and pitched roofs. Passengers will be welcomed by this distinctly local architecture, which showcases high-quality craftsmanship while underscoring the airport’s commitment to sustainability.

Photovoltaic panels and energy piles will cover Dock A’s roofs, contributing to local energy generation and storage. Integrated shading will reduce solar heat gain and maintenance requirements. A combination of water and air-based cooling and heating systems will decrease the building’s energy consumption.

“Despite the complex framework conditions of the existing structure, the design of the new Dock A aims to provide the most intuitive routing possible to bring travellers to their airport gates—and thus their final destinations—with efficiency and ease,” said Martin Voelkle, partner-in-charge at BIG. “Similarly, the visually calm material palette, natural light and biophilia help redefine passenger expectations of the typical airport experience.”


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