A Gliding Colossus: Chek Lap Kok, Vaults over an Artificial Island


In 1992, Foster and Partners won the competition to build a new airport for Hong Kong. To be placed, like Osaka’s Kansai (whose competition Foster lost to Piano in 1988) on an artificial island, the huge building was to be the largest construction project in the world, and spelt both the economic boom of the Pacific Rim and the the confidence in the future of Hong Kong after its devolution. Having finished Stansted the year before to popular and critical acclaim, many features of the smaller airport were to be expected in the Asian commission, and indeed the luminous light roof and impeccable layout benefit from the British experience; but the scale of Chek Lap Kok suggested using linear forms to orientate passengers, and the answer was found in the top-lit vaults of Televisa or Cranfield, gently curved like the roof of the Fréjus Lycée (or Piano’s Kansai for that matter), and spread over the vast entrance atrium and the Y-shaped concourse of the gates like a magic flying carpet. The passenger flows follow the direction of the 36 metre-span light-weight steel vaults, pierced along the axis by a delicate lacework of linear skylights, and the colossus floats over the isle like a giant kite, with a big head and long forked tail, ready to be flown over the bay of Hong Kong and the shores of the Pacific...[+]

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