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Heathrow Airport Shortlists 4 Leading Architects for Its New Design

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About 75 million travelers passed through London's Heathrow International Airport in 2015, making it the busiest airport in the U.K.—and the sixth busiest in the world, according to Forbes . It’s with these figures that Heathrow made a proposal to its government for a new terminal and an additional runway. Now, the London airport is offering a first glimpse at commissioned expansion proposals by Zaha Hadid Architects , Grimshaw , HOK , and Benoy that may shape the future of the global hub.

A rendering shows HOK’s’ design for a public plaza within Heathrow’s proposed new terminal.

The massive project is challenging these firms to reimagine what an airport can be. “The visionary concepts are just the start of a dialogue which will fundamentally redefine what an airport is, how it looks and feels, how it interacts with its environment and an increasingly demanding generation of new passengers,” said Heathrow’s head of design, Barry Weekes, in a statement. “The airport must enhance how it connects with the communities around it. Our ambition for expansion is to transform Heathrow into a global gateway at the forefront of sustainable development and innovative design.”

A rendering shows the interior design proposed by Grimshaw.

If all of this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. A similar bid for a new terminal for Heathrow was unsuccessful in 2010. Many residents and city officials have the same concerns now as they did six years ago, arguing that the extra terminal would mean a larger noise footprint for the airport, affecting some 760,000 people in Heathrow’s densely populated surroundings (Frankfurt International Airport comes in at a distant second, with nearly 240,000 residents in its range).

Heathrow officials argue that the airport can be expanded while reducing noise for local communities, and in accordance with EU air-quality limits. The new terminal and runway, officials say, will more than double the number of domestic routes served—ensuring every region of the U.K. can be connected to global markets—and also increase cargo capacity, thus supporting Britain’s exporters. The result would mean billions of dollars in economic growth, as well as some new 180,000 jobs.

With such pledges, Heathrow officials are hoping the British government will pass the proposal. In the meantime, the airport will study the four designs before selecting a final concept in July.