London Britannia Airport by Gensler

Architecture firm Gensler have released a conceptual proposal for a new floating airport for London, located in the Thames Estuary with terminals connected by underwater tunnels.

Unlike previous concepts for a new London airport, including last year's proposal by Foster + Partners, Gensler's plans do not involve pouring earth into the river for land reclamation. Instead, "we're going to float the scheme on giant platforms," explains Ian Mulcahey, the firm's global head of planning.

London Britannia Airport by Gensler

The proposal comes as the UK government looks at ways to increase airport capacity in south-east England. Called London Britannia Airport, it would comprise four floating runways tethered to the seabed and departure concourses leading to underwater rail tunnels, which would connect passengers to central London as well as European rail networks.

Passengers coming by car would travel to three land-based terminals – two located north and south of the estuary and a third proposed between Canary Wharf and the Olympic Park. The proposal also includes plans to transform Heathrow Airport into an eco city providing homes for 300,000 people.

London Britannia Airport by Gensler

Above image shows sketch for Heathrow Eco City

Talking to Dezeen about the possibility of a third runway at Heathrow, Mulcahey said that would "only be a sticking plaster." Instead of wasting time on a short-term solution, he thinks it would be better to start again properly: "The scheme totally rethinks how the airport of the future will operate.”

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Images are by Vyonyx.

Here's some more information from Gensler:

Global design firm Gensler reveals its concept for a new London aviation hub. London Britannia Airport (LBA) would position the capital as the global gateway for Europe in what would be the world’s most innovative infrastructure development this century, while reducing environmental impact, cost and disruption to London.

Providing a further endorsement to the Thames Estuary as the preferred location for London’s new airport, Gensler have designed a unique solution creating an entirely new approach to modern airport design and construction with a clear focus on convenience and accessibility.

The proposals also envisage a new future for Heathrow as the largest urban expansion project in Europe with the development of an eco city – Heathrow Gardens - on the former airfield that can utilise the existing infrastructure to provide additional homes for 300,000 people and employment for over 200,000.

Chris Johnson, Gensler managing principal and the creative director for the airport said: “This is a once in a century project that will build on the capital’s reputation for innovation and creativity and provide a new symbol of national pride. This is a fantastic opportunity to rethink the problems created by a redundant 20th century airport model and provide a genuine 21st century airport that creates a new standard for the world, minimising nuisance and maximising environmental benefits.”

Ian Mulcahey, Project Director: “This will be a ‘national’ infrastructure project that can inject new pace and dynamism into our economy. The airport can be quickly manufactured in the ship yards and steel works across the UK and can be floated by sea and positioned in the Estuary. This isn’t a London Airport, it is a Global Airport, designed, manufactured and built in the UK.”

Environmental Benefits

The relocation of a UK hub airport to the Thames Estuary will provide a state of the art facility that will transform the quality of life for millions of Londoners and will provide London with the space and infrastructure to grow and thrive over the next century. The marine location not only minimises noise disruption to existing communities whilst enabling 24 hour passenger arrival and departure, but it also avoids any demolition of homes.

Building upon the UK’s capability as a world leader in marine construction, London Britannia Airport includes four five-kilometre floating runways. To minimise environmental disruption the runways are tethered to the sea bed and to the final departure concourse which provides access to the marine rail tunnels that connect directly to central London and the European High Speed Rail Networks.

The design’s inherent flexibility creates a platform whereby runways can be floated in as required and taken away for maintenance in the future. The concept allows for future expansion to accommodate 6 runways when required.

By floating the runway and its associated hard standing it is possible to avoid the negative effects of land reclamation in the sensitive estuarine waters of the Thames. The location of the airport can then be optimised to avoid the key feeding and migration areas between high and low water.

London Britannia will have a sustainable access strategy with unparalleled accessibility to the UK and Europe through a combination of rail, ferry and jetfoil connections. Vehicular access will be dispersed to three new land based Departure/Arrival terminals, two located north and south of the estuary, and a third Central London terminal proposed between Canary Wharf and the Olympic Park.
The airport has also been designed to generate much of its own power from marine turbines situated within, and adjacent to the floating runways.