Madrid Barajas “can be read as a series of extrusions, potentially infinitely extendable, rather than a free-standing bespoke composition.”
– Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners LLP website
Madrid Barajas is an astounding architectural triumph, reinvigorating an increasingly trite building type. Richard Rogers Partnership’s largest project to date (over a million square meters) features an expansive undulating roof system that envelops the central Terminal 4 Building. The massive roof sports bamboo cladding within the building, engendering a powerful unity that overwhelms any competing forces of division. Although completed in 2006, the design phase was accomplished by 1999; yet the building remains a bastion of contemporary innovation in the intersection of Form and Function.
The Richard Rogers Partnership, in collaboration with Spanish firm Estudio Lamela plus engineering companies TPS and Initec, won the international competition to reinvent Madrid’s major European airport in 1997. An introduction to the project is quoted from Rogers’ company website:
According to Rogers’ extensive web documentation of the project, the concept for Barajas was to develop a modular system of units enclosed by a repetitive roof system that allows for the reconfiguration of interior spaces and the addition of more units to accommodate growth. The roof system is meant to visually envelop occupants and functions alike, streamlining the expansive complex while at the same time allowing for vast interior spaces replete with natural light. The rendering provided below emphasizes these potentials:
The roof soars over a 60ft+ high interior space, oriented lengthwise along the terminal. Down the center of the terminal buildings is a “light canyon” which allows natural light to permeate all of the public sections of the airport; the 2nd and 3rd floors are split down the center. The “canyon” is spanned by catwalks and platforms, which offer a staggering view down the length of the building and up into the organic crevices of the roof; strolling along these bridges, visitors begin to understand the magnitude of the project and the conceptual underpinning that guided its design.
As Rogers describes, the project is a clearly articulated and constructed mega-building; the cross section provided above identifies this almost diagrammatic clarity. And it is this clarity that I find most stimulating, especially when compared to the similar strategy behind Rogers’ Centre Pompidou. Barajas is much more genuine in its visual representation of its structure. Much of the Centre Pompidou’s structure lies hidden within the building while the emphasized crystalline structure that encloses it provides only a portion of the building’s support. For Barajas, the brightly painted steel structural members (referred to as “trees” by the architect) gracefully uphold the soaring roof and connect to the substantial concrete pylons that articulate the massive building into cross-sectional modules. As Rogers’ website attests, the building provides for a level of unparalleled transparency, deriving almost all of its formal grace from its functional underpinning. This building is not be missed!