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Leaf Canopy: Kutaisi International Airport

In recent years, Georgia has undergone considerable development and as a result has moved its parliament from the capital Tbilisi to the city of Kutaisi, a city which is also home to a large university and student population. Following the cessation of heavy industry exports to Russia, the city experienced a difficult economic period.

Architects: UNStudio
Location: Kutaisi, Georgia

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Photograph: Nakaniamasakhlisi, Tbilisi

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Photograph: Nakaniamasakhlisi, Tbilisi

The government of Georgia therefore decided to actively undertake an extensive regeneration of Kutaisi, not least by relocating the country’s seat of parliament and building a new international airport; an airport which also provides access to region to the growing numbers of tourists who have recently been discovering this young state in the Caucasus. The government additionally wanted to reduce the cost of flights to the region, thereby not only making the city more accessible for tourists, but also for the students of Kutaisi University. So, the ‘King David the Builder’ International Airport is designed to serve domestic and international flights.

UNStudio’s design for this new international airport comprises the full airport development, including a revision of the runway, the master plan for the landscape and planned future development thereof, the terminal building, offices, a meteorological station and the air traffic control tower. Regulations for the airport were strict and comprised of a mix of European and Georgian standards, including earthquake zoning 8 requirements.

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Photograph: Nakaniamasakhlisi, Tbilisi

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Photograph: Nakaniamasakhlisi, Tbilisi

The design for the new airport incorporates both Georgia’s historic landscape and its architecture. In Georgia public buildings and private houses employ their entrance lobbies as showcases for their individual identities. In the design for the new airport UNStudio embraces this architectural concept in order to manifest Georgia’s young and dynamic democracy, along with its rapid development as a main crossing point in the region. Georgia is located on a crossroads of rich cultures, with a history of travellers passing through the Caucasus or arriving from the Black Sea. The airport is therefore designed to form a foyer to the city; an open and welcoming gesture.

The typical pre-flight conveyor belt experience of the passenger typically pays little regard to the joy of travelling, to the social and experiential component of travel. The design for Kutaisi International Airport aims to replace this sense of mechanization with the reintroduction of a sense of joy in the travel experience.

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Section: UNStudio

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Section: UNStudio

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Photograph: Nakaniamasakhlisi, Tbilisi

The architecture of the terminal refers to a gateway, in which a clear structural layout creates an all-encompassing and protective volume. Both the exterior corner detail – which functions as a crossing-point and point of recognition – and the so called umbrella structure within the terminal building – which operates as a roundabout for passenger flows – operate as the two main architectural details around which all of the airport functions are organized. The umbrella further guarantees views from the terminal plaza to the apron and to the Caucasus on the horizon and vice versa.

The central point in the umbrella is an exterior patio which is used for departing passengers.  The transparent space around this central area is designed to ensure that flows of passengers are smooth and that departure and arrival flows do not coincide. The design organizes the logistical processes, provides optimal security and ensures that the traveller has sufficient space to circulate comfortably. Serving as a lobby to Georgia, the terminal will in addition operate as a café and art gallery, displaying works by young Georgian artists and thereby presenting a further identifier of contemporary Georgian culture.

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Floor plan: UNStudio

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Diagram: UNStudio

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

The 55m high air traffic control tower and its supporting office/operational building is designed to complement the design of the terminal. The tower’s strong appearance makes it a beacon of the airport and surrounding area. The traffic control cabin on the top level forms the focal point of the tower, with a 360 degrees view on the surrounding landscape. A spacious and comfortable interior ensures a workspace for 4-8 operators with optimal concentration. The exterior of the tower is clad with a perforated skin on a concrete core to use wind for ventilation purposes. LED Light in-between the skin and the core enhance the beacon effect of the tower at dusk and dawn by changing colour whenever there is a fluctuation in wind speed. This interactive element thus creates a visual sense of recognition and a feeling of ‘coming home’ for both travellers and those returning to the city respectively.

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Photograph: Nakaniamasakhlisi, Tbilisi

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Photograph: Nakaniamasakhlisi, Tbilisi

Energy and ventilation concept
The design for the new airport incorporates numerous sustainable elements. The previous structure of an existing office building has been reused. A large onsite underground source of natural water provides the basis for the reduction of energy consumption through concrete core activation and use for sprinkler basins. The floors of both the terminal and the traffic control tower will utilize this water for maintaining a regulated temperature in the two volumes. In the terminal building cantilevered roofs provide sun shading on south and southwest zones. A hybrid low pressure ventilation system is integrated into the terminal's main structure and there is a grey water collection system in the floor underneath the terminal building. A future aim is to present Kutaisi airport as Georgia’s first airport to incorporate a strict segregation of waste and establish a recycling system which could be further implemented into new and existing projects in Georgia.

The design for the airport further incorporates the potential for an expansion to double its size and capacity, should this prove necessary in the future.

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Photograph: Nakaniamasakhlisi, Tbilisi

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Photograph: Nakaniamasakhlisi, Tbilisi

The project was designed and constructed in two years, under lead consultancy of UNStudio, with the airport already having begun operations by September 2012. Both design and construction saw the involvement of numerous local and international companies, with openness and knowledge sharing proving to be essential to fulfilling the tight schedule. The steel structure of the terminal - produced and shipped from Hungary – recently won a European Steel Design Award.

Kutaisi International Airport will become a central hub, with up to one million travellers targeted in 2014-2015. Actual figures for the airport show 30 flights per week increasing in spring 2014 to 40, by which time direct flights from Western Europe to Kutaisi will also be possible.

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Photograph: Nakaniamasakhlisi, Tbilisi

Kutaisi International Airport, Georgia, UNStudio

Photograph: Nakaniamasakhlisi, Tbilisi

Project data

Client master plan and terminal: United Airports of Georgia LLC
Client air traffic control tower, offices and meteorological building: Sakaeronavigatsia Ltd.
Structural consultant: MTM kft. Budapest
MEP consultant: SMG-SISU kft. Budapest
Landscape: OR else
Airport planning: Arup Aviation, London
Sustainability: Arup, Amsterdam
Terminal advisor on interior & art: Inside Outside / Petra Blaisse
Local architect: Studio ARCI, Tbilisi

Building surface: terminal 4,500 m², Control Tower and offices 1,800 m²
Height air traffic control tower: 55 m
Building site: 12,000 m²
Concept design: 2011
Design development and construction: 2012-2013

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