TERMINAL VELOCITY

Mexico 2014 | TOURISM | FOCUS: NEW AIRPORT

Within a few years, air-passengers traveling to and from Mexico's dynamic capital will be doing so at what stands to be another hallmark airport from a living legend of the built environment.

As Mexico's fifth largest source of revenue, the tourism industry generated $8.4 billion in 1H2014, thanks to the 14.2 million people that vacationed in the country. The tourism industry in Mexico is officially earmarked to become the third most profitable industry by 2018, and on September 3, 2014 the Mexican government revealed that the proposed scheme of Foster + Partners and Fernando Romero, a son-in-law of Mexican business giant Carlos Slim, had been selected for what will become the country's iconic new airport dealing with additional arrivals. The idea of the airport is not new, however, and an abortive attempt at building it championed by then President Vicente Fox in the early 2000s provoked violent public opposition, whereby the scheme was shelved in 2002.

CAPACITY FOR GROWTH

At a cost of $9.17 billion, to be met from the public and private purse alike, and boasting six runways, the project is to be realized next to the Benito Juárez International Airport in the east of Mexico City. The current airport is Mexico's largest and Latin America's second largest facility by plane movements. Its own official data shows that in 2013, the airport served 31.5 million passengers, up 7% YoY. And for the 12-months ending July 31, 2014, the figure was at 33.1 million.

Referencing a spider, the new airport takes the form of an X shape with arched spans. Reuter's quoted Sir Norman Foster as saying that, “This airport is the first of its kind in the world. It doesn't have a conventional roof. It doesn't have vertical walls. It doesn't have columns in the normal sense." The plan is for the new airport to provide a 120 million-passenger capacity within 50 years. According to Telecoms and Transport Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Esparza construction is likely to commence in mid-2015, and the construction manager seems likely to be US engineering giant Parsons.

FUNDING INBOUND

The government intends to stump up the pesos for the first stage of the new airport, with revenues also coming from the existing airport—due to be mothballed upon completion of the new facility. Beyond 2016, bonds with a maturity of up to 30 years aimed at generating $6 billion will cover subsequent project stages. The ultimate cost when factoring in construction management and the site's water-related issues (Mexico City lies on a lake-bed) could reach $12.9 billion.

FLYING OFF THE DRAWING BOARD

The new Mexican scheme, though unique in design, is just the latest addition to Foster + Partners' extensive airport design portfolio. It has already housed lost-luggage desks at Kuwait International Airport (2011), Tocumen International Airport, Panama (2011), Queen Alia International Airport, Jordan (2005-2012), Beijing Airport (2003-2008), Chek Lap Kok Airport, China (1992-1998), and Stanstead Airport, UK (1981-1991).

The Foster + Partners practice is all but a byword for innovative, large-scale architectural and master planning schemes, having stamped its hallmark on the built environment throughout the world. Just a few of its more iconic projects have included London's Wembley Stadium, 30 St Mary Axe, better known as the "Gherkin," and the Reichstag, or New German Parliament. It's hardly surprising then, that over the years Foster + Partners has garnered just about every design prize there is, including the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Mies Van der Rohe Award, the Stirling Prize, the Royal Gold Medal, and the AIA Gold Medal. Foster has already contributed notably to Mexico City's landscape with his Museo Soumaya, home incidentally to a substantial part Carlos Slim's own art collection.