Hot Curves... of Madrid's Barajas Airport's New Terminal

It shouldn't come as any surprise that the new terminal at Madrid's Barajas Airport was named the winner of the Royal Institute of British Architecture's Stirling Prize for 2006. Completed earlier this year, the project is the brainchild of the Richard Rogers Partnership ("RRP") which has offices in the United Kingdom, Tokyo, Barcelona and Madrid. None of the practices, however, have every taken on a project of this magnitude making it the largest in RRP's history.

With a budget of around one billion euros and more than a million square miles of construction, the new terminal is feat of design finesse that will only further Spain's ceaseless advancement as the new "it" country of Europe. With architectural project after project popping up from some of the biggest names in the industry (think Santiago Calatrava and Zaha Hadid), the opening of the new terminal (able to handle 35 million travelers annually), once again establishes Madrid as a major European hub.


The terminal is constructed with waves of curving steel "wings" that are supported by a system of central "trees." One can already see how natural inspiration was key in the design to the project. The roof of the terminal is perforated with sky lights that were carefully spaced to optimize the amount of natural light that will enter the terminal, sort of the like sunlight shining through tree branches. The team was careful to consider the stages of airline travel and each process has its own light filled "canyon" so to speak. From arrival to check-in, through security and on to departure gates, each passenger procession takes place in its own area with its own aesthetic. With such a linear structure the terminal reinforces the desire for quick streamlined travel that eases the hassle of travel for passengers.


The interior roof of the terminal is lined with smooth bamboo stripes that provide a seamless appearance that contrasts with the visually stunning kilometer-long vista of color graduating tree supports. Once in passenger areas, the tranquil transparency of the glass construction adds a nice light touch that sits easily on the senses of the public. In reality, every structural detail of the terminal seems to have been chosen in order to alleviate the stress that now accompanies airline travel. In a process that now seems to be too concerned with practicality and regulation, and less interested in personal comfort, RRP seems to have arrived at a healthy medium that provides an efficient structure that is also sensibly gratifying.

So, as stated, it's no surprise that Barajas took the top prize. Here's what Jack Pringle, RIBA president, had to say:

"Whatever the means of approach, by air or by land, the sheer scale and complexity of what has been tackled and achieved here cannot be over-estimated. In response to the key challenge: that of efficiently processing constantly changing passenger flows and associated luggage handling, the resulting building presents a straightforward linear diagram in the form of a clear sequence of spectacular spaces for both departing and arriving passengers..."

"The building is robust enough to withstand the results of minor battles lost in terms of signage and shopping, the simplicity and clarity of the architectural ambition being all-dominant. Nowhere more so than externally, where the roof again emerges as the defining feature, sweeping across the building, cloaking the richness within and reinforcing the extruded nature of this infinitely extendable tour de force."

Having lived in Spain for six months and seen the initial plans for the terminal, I was admittedly skeptical at first. The design and construction seemed costly and risky. However, Richard Rogers and partners have sold me and I now have one more reason to return to Spain.

Seth Plattner
Featured Blogger
American Inventor Spot Team

Click here to read more about the Richard Rogers Partnership and their projects past, present and future.