Completed as the gateway to the city for the twenty-ninth Olympiad in 2008, Beijing's international terminal is the world's largest and most advanced airport building − not only technologically, but also in terms of passenger experience, operational efficiency and sustainability. Designed to be welcoming and uplifting, it is also a symbol of place, its soaring aerodynamic roof and dragon-like form celebrating the thrill and poetry of flight and evoking traditional Chinese colours and symbols.

Located between the existing eastern runway and a planned third runway, the terminal building and Ground Transportation Centre (GTC) together enclose a floor area of 1.3 million square metres and were designed to accommodate 50 million passengers per annum by 2020. Although conceived on an unprecedented scale, the terminal's design expands on the new airport paradigm created by Stansted and Chek Lap Kok. Designed for maximum flexibility to cope with the unpredictable nature of the aviation industry, like its predecessors, it aims to resolve the complexities of modern air travel, combining spatial clarity with high service standards. Transport connections are fully integrated, walking distances for passengers are short, with few level changes, and transfer times between flights are minimised. Like Chek Lap Kok, the terminal is open to views to the outside and planned beneath a unifying roof canopy, whose skylights are both an aid to orientation and sources of daylight − the colour cast changing from red to yellow as passengers progress through the building.

The terminal building is one of the world's most sustainable, incorporating a range of passive environmental design concepts, such as the south-east orientated skylights, which maximise heat gain from the early morning sun, and an integrated environment-control system that minimises energy consumption. In construction terms, its design optimised the performance of materials selected on the basis of local availability, functionality, application of local skills, and low cost procurement. Remarkably, it was designed and built in just four years.

Sketches + Drawings




Foster has achieved what no other architect has been able to: he has rethought the airport from scratch and made it work. Foster has done for airports what the architects Reed & Stem did for train stations with their design for Grand Central

a building whose greatest achievement is not its sumptuous main concourse but its orchestration of an intricate web of people, trains, taxis, and passing automobiles into a system that feels straightforward and logical, as if the building itself were guiding you from the entrance to your train.”Paul Goldberger, The New Yorker, April 21 2008

Beijing is a seductive vision of how airports could be.”Edwin Heathcote

Financial Times, 11/03/2008

Facts + Figures

  • Appointment: 2003
  • Completion: 2008
  • Area: 1 300 000m²
  • Capacity: 43000000, 50 million passengers per year (2020)
  • Client: Beijing Capital International Airport Company Ltd.
  • Structural Engineer: Arup
  • Quantity Surveyor: Davis Langdon & Seah
  • M+E Engineer: Arup
  • Additional Consultants: Michel Desvigne, Speirs and Major Associates


  • Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Travel Awards, Favourite Airport
  • RIBA International Award
  • AJ100 Building of the Year
  • Travel + Leisure 2009 Design Awards: Best Transportation
  • The Emirates Glass LEAF Awards, Best Structural Design of the Year
  • Condé Nast Traveller Award for Innovation and Design – Winner Infrastructure category,


The roof area is 360,000 sq metres.
Terminal 3 external cladding area 275,000m2.
GTC glazed roof area 27,300m2.
Peak workforce approximately 40,000 (working in shifts 24 hours per day, 7 days per week).
Total airport site area: 1480 hectares (total expansion).
Aircraft movement peak hour figures (total airside): 500,000/ year in 2015 International 7000 pax/hour, domestic 7360 pax/hour.
All building services are from below, freeing up the roof for daylighting opportunities.
Roof has a generous overhang to the south, providing shading from the sun without sacrificing good views out.
Integration with mass public transport - a new rail link to the city centre of Beijing
Generous commercial spaces provide support for the airport's day to day operations.

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