London Britannia Airport
by Gensler

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.”

See more stories about airports here.

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.

  • Lisa

    It would be really cool if Dezeen would report something rational sometime instead of w***ing over design porn all the time. xx

  • hellyea

    I'm here for design porn :)

  • Colonel Pancake

    My conceptual airport features planes that leave on time and TSA agents that don't fondle nine year olds' genitals.

  • Julian

    This is absolute nightmare. Why do you have to embarrass yourself by presenting such a terrifying design? I was curious about environmental benefits… and I couldn’t find one. I’m sorry for the time wasted to type this.

  • chad

    While fruitlessly pondering the environmental benefits of floating an airport, I wonder if Julian read the section of the article subtitled "Environmental Benefits".

  • Surely closing Heathrow altogether would be a criminal waste of the resources that have gone into the recent expansion of it? Crazy!

  • D0ub1ed

    Looking at this makes me cringe. Gensler should carry on churning out buildings rather than allowing themselves to think conceptually for a second.

  • D0ub1ed

    …and fantastic eco city sketch!

  • Concerned Citizen

    It appears that Gensler is unaware of all the land-based transportation links required for an international airport. The cost of transporting the workforce alone would be an enormous, increasing, and never ending expenditure. Then, the unfortunate traveler would be forced to hand over even more fees to the airport for their land passage to the airport as well.

    Gensler did not address the issues of fuel storage on the proposed airport, either. Or have they planned for long hoses to land?

    The article mentioned England’s long maritime history, but does Britain even build ships bigger than a toy anymore?

    This project seems to be more of a publicity stunt than a thoughtful design.

  • Lewis

    A very forward thinking scheme, such a sensitive estuarine landscape of salt marshes and mud flats requires a sensitive proposal that has minimal impact on the land. There is also a possibility that the airport could act as soft defence to reduce the coastal erosion that occurs along the mouth of the Estuary. Even the possibility for energy generation from tidal power.

    With strong transport links from central London you could reduce the need for acres of tarmac car parking, something planners generally encourage. British infrastructure requires forward thinking conceptual ideas that respond to the current (and future) environmental pressures.

  • Jordin Panzram

    My conceptual airport design for the city of Barcelona is a large slab of sleek concrete floating 2 km above the city! That way airplanes are closer to the landing site! The airport is kept afloat with advanced methane and hydrogen storage balloons bellow it! People are transferred up and down through a series of tubular elevators!

    The old airport will be turned into a green slum for the thriving community of Nigerian immigrants! The new airport will be sustainable and be a model for the way future airports will be like! Airplane fuel will be pumped from the ground up and all the installations will work with solar panels! And it will work, because the airport is 2 km above ground and closer to the sun!

    Isn’t it cool?! I thought the whole thing carefully over!

  • Steven Boxall

    Instead of looking at relocating airports, does it make more sense to look at the next generation of aircraft. These are based on blended wings which reduce noise and are generally more efficient.

    If, as claimed, this technology makes the noise of aircraft barely audible outside of the boundary of the airport this removes one of the arguments of moving airports away from cities. More details here:

  • T Bell

    Another crazy idea for the Kent people to live with. Stansted one of the nicer airports is running at less than 50 per cent capacity, and Manston at a great deal less, with the advantage it’s near to the channel ports and fast rail link to London. And the added capacity could be up and running today, not in 10/15 years time. Also could have power from the new London array wind farm.

    The SS Montgomery is a real problem, again I’m sorry for the people of Kent, because why is it OK to make it safe for an airport, but not safe for the people in Kent. Don’t they matter?

    See Facebook SS Richard Montgomery (the wreck).

  • annie

    I think we better go back and ask Boris if he still has his plans ready. I think that it is a poorly executed version of the Boris Island, which was excellent!

    Also Lord Foster’s design was really good. I guess two out of three is good but Cameron and Clegg will pick this one and name it the Coalition airport.

  • Yola Dragon

    While its easy to draw a floating runway, building it and mooring it are more of a challenge. A full size runway like those at Heathrow is 4km long. By comparison Shell’s Prelude FLNG terminal, which is soon to commence construction, will be 488m long. When complete Prelude will be, by a good margin, the world’s largest floating structure.

    Gensler’s proposal is an impractical fantasy and does nothing to help the SE airport debate.

  • T Bell

    New slogan “Expansion for Manston!” [solution for the airport problem]