Queen Alia International Airport
by Foster + Partners


Foster + Partners drew inspiration from Bedouin tents to create a canopy of domes over a new airport terminal that opened yesterday in Amman, Jordan (+ slideshow).

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

Located just outside the capital, the Queen Alia International Airport is the largest airport in the country and the modular design of the terminal will allow the airport to further expand each year, increasing passenger capacity from 3.5 million annually to 12 million by 2030.

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

The tessellated concrete roof canopy spans the entire terminal. There are glazed elevations on each side of the building to help passenger orientation, so the roof overhangs the facade to shade the interior from intense sunlight.

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

Foster + Partners borrowed additional motifs from traditional Islamic architecture to generate shapes used throughout the building. The underside of each dome is embossed to resemble the surface of a leaf, while the supporting grid of concrete columns feature split ends designed to look like plant stems. In the gaps between, droplet-shaped skylights allow light to filter through each space.

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

The concrete used displays soft brown tones intended to match the shades of the surrounding desert, which the architects created by mixed the material with local gravel. The high thermal mass of the concrete will also help to maintain a stead internal climate during the severe changes in temperature that take place during the summer.

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

Departure gates are divided into two wings and open out to courtyards filled with trees and plants, expected to improve the air quality.

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

"Queen Alia International Airport has been an extraordinary project," commented Foster + Partners' chief executive Mouzhan Majidi. "It has transformed Amman into a niche hub, while offering critical growth for the wider economy through regional links. The new terminal building is energy efficient, will accommodate phased expansion and provides a dynamic symbol for Jordan."

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

London firm Foster + Partners have worked on a number of airports and other transport projects over the years. The office famously designed Beijing's Capital Airport and was responsible for London's Stansted airport and Chek Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong.

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

In 2011 Foster + Partners also completed the world’s first tourist space terminal in New Mexico. See more architecture by Foster + Partners.

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

Photography is by Nigel Young.

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

Here's some more information from Foster + Partners:

Official opening of Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan

Today marked the official opening of Queen Alia International Airport, the spectacular new gateway to Amman. The airport has a highly efficient passive design, which has been inspired by local traditions, and is based on a flexible modular solution that allows for future expansion – the new building secures the city's position as the main hub for the Levant region and allows the airport to grow by 6 per cent per annum for the next twenty-five years, increasing capacity from 3.5 million to 12 million passengers per annum by 2030.

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

In response to Amman's climate, where summer temperatures vary markedly between day and night time, the building is constructed largely from concrete, the high thermal mass of the material providing passive environmental control. The tessellated roof canopy comprises a series of shallow concrete domes, which extend to shade the facades – each dome provided a modular unit for construction. The domes branch out from the supporting columns like the leaves of a desert palm and daylight floods the concourse through split beams at the column junctions. Echoing the veins of a leaf, a geometric pattern based on traditional Islamic forms is applied to each exposed soffit. The complex geometry of the roof shells and fabrication strategy was developed in conjunction with Foster + Partners in-house geometry specialists.

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

Two piers of departure gates run along either side of the central building, which contains the main processing areas and shops, lounges and restaurants. Between these volumes, open-air courtyards – a feature of vernacular architecture in the region – contribute to the terminal's environmental strategy: the plants and trees help to filter pollution and pre-condition the air before it is drawn into the air handling system and reflecting pools bounce indirect natural light into the airport.

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

The terminal is glazed on all sides to allow views of the aircraft on the apron and to aid orientation. Horizontal louvres shade the facades from direct sunlight – to eliminate glare, the louvres become concentrated in more exposed areas close to the columns. The concrete structure incorporates local gravel to reduce maintenance requirements and the embodied energy of the material, and to harmonise with the natural shades of local sand.

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster and Partners

Amman is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world – the airport's design resonates with a sense of place and local architecture, particularly in the domed roof, which from the air echoes the black flowing fabric of a Bedouin tent. There are also references to the Jordanian tradition of hospitality – in celebration of the custom for family groups to congregate at the airport, the forecourt has been enlarged to create a landscaped plaza with seating, shaded by trees, where people can gather to bid farewell or welcome returning travellers.

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

Above: level one plan - click for larger image

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

Above: level two plan - click for larger image

Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners

Above: level three plan - click for larger image

  • Ugh, what the fug. It’s like opening your toolshed and freaking out at seeing a wasp’s nest. Get the hose!

  • PKO

    Beautiful concrete work.

  • Philippe

    No, no, no. These domes do not look like they were inspired by bedouin tents and why should an airplane land near something that looks like a bedouin tent in an Arab country? Totally disappointing. It is just an excuse and an attempt to make architecture contextual!

    • Dan

      What the architect actually wanted to say was: “We made an aiport structure that looks cool and works well. But then the client wanted to sell it to the public and the journalist wanted to make it sound more exciting, so we just waffled some crap.”

      • Amr Madadha

        100% true.

  • Who cares about the arguments? It looks far more beautiful than other airports.

  • kaptnkrunch

    What it does look like is a covenant cruiser from Halo.

  • mmmhhh

    That looks well designed. Is it meant to be extendable? Images of the edge would say so.

  • i2hellfire

    Mental note: praise Foster, or I guess concrete. Even if the architecture in question is painfully average and visually diarrhetic, or get down-voted.

  • Who would’ve thunk Sir Foster was a Galaga fan? :P

  • ابنة الاردن العربي

    Why did they choose Foster? Many of the young architects in Jordan can design better than these (out of context) exposed domes. Believe in youth! We are attached more to our context and our needs than global star architects whom we respect.

    • bill

      The domes and public concourses are just the tip of the iceberg. A Foster airport is a masterclass in coordination and infrastructure design. Not something any young architect can bang out.

  • wpgmb

    Floor plans? All I see is the Starship Enterprise.

  • DeeCee10000

    Wow, beautiful! Love the way the ceiling looks like canopies with light and sky in between each one. They even seem to have movement; looks beautiful.

  • seth

    Exterior from above is ok, but the interior is pretty nice. Nice work.

  • Jihad

    Looks like Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

  • south

    Amazing – a brand new airport and not a single piece of white tubing in sight. Quite beautiful. Glad to see bare concrete making a comeback.

  • Dylan

    Compared to other architecture that is on an airport runway it looks a lot nicer. It doesn’t actually look anything like a bedouin tent though.

  • Nick

    I envy the job of the Foster’s ‘in-house geometry specialists’. Great job.

  • Jamil Wafa

    I think this giant terminal is too large for Jordan. It is also a complex building. Foster did the design without taking into consideration the practicality of its operation and maintenance! Remember, we are in Jordan where not everything is readily available. Has there been a thorough study about costing versus income? I believe the cost will be very exorbitant and will increase the debt Jordan will continue to face. Has there been any scientific study to find out of the number of carriers using this new terminal? I feel a dedicated and professional team should study carefully this important project. Please do not go for a glittery terminal instead of an easily operational and low maintenance terminal. Good luck.

    • Jt30

      I agree. I was in this airport last week and it had all the glitter but overall was very difficult to navigate. It had large unfinished parts and no one was prepared to run it. The business lounge was down some stairs and then up an elevator, only one of three toilets worked in the restroom, the shower rooms and some of the lounge were under construction, signage was nonexistent in some areas, and we entered our gate 10 minutes before boarding to find out it was last call – no TV screens to indicate this. So we went through the gate, down a ramp, with some options to meander off into dead space, and finally into another waiting room with horrible layout – it was very narrow, and there was a lot of bottlenecking at the entrance to the hall that led to the plane.

  • Jamil Wafa

    I did not realise first that the actual building was/is under construction! Has there been a realm study of this giant and costly project? Though I am not a Jordanian, my comments are purely related to my observation throughout our Middle East region that we tend to go for glamour as opposed to practicality and low cost of operation.

    As Jordan is heavily indebted, I wonder if a feeler was sent to airlines that can be induced/attracted to use Alia International Airport. Has there been a modified or improved tourism policy to attract more tourists into Jordan? Who will be operating this giant terminal? I would love to have/see a copy of the blueprint of the building. How does the Jordan civil aviation authority plan to recover the cost of the terminal? Good luck.

  • Concerned Citizen

    The last decent tent-like structure was the Haj terminal at the airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Perhaps before Foster’s gang proclaims that their building evokes a Bedouin tent, they should actually put their eyes on such a tent. This structure simply looks like sheets blowing in the wind from a clothes line.

    The plan looked disappointing and based on at least one experienced traveller, above, it is a failure.

  • Mr. Cappucino

    They kinda look like honeycombs?

  • Amman Visitor

    The problem is not the airport, but rather the officials that “welcome” you in the airport of Amman. One example, the person responsible of giving visas always has the credit card machine not working, so you are obliged to exchange money in the shack in front where you are charged for Jordanian dinars with the price of gold.

    Changing only the airport for a new one will not change how badly people are treated upon arrival.

  • Just incredible. What a humbling achievement.