Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5, designed by Lord Richard Rogers of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, is on schedule to recieve its first passengers on 27 March, a group of architects taking part in the second-only media tour of the facility were told last week.
Viewing the terminal pre-opening as part of LEAF London - an event held by designbuild-network's sister print publication LEAF - the architects saw how prefabrication of large parts of the airport's design allowed for a much faster construction period as well as reduced manpower and costs.
Trials have been underway at the airport, according to Terminal 5 strategic programme manager Allan Ashenden, since September last year, and while there are still some "minor hiccups" to overcome, the BA terminal will be fully functional come due date.
It is hoped the new terminal will allow BAA to overcome some of the ongoing criticisms directed in recent times at the airport, which is pursing ambitious plans for growth.
The ongoing work, which will include the demolition and rebuilding of Terminal 2 while Terminal 1 is refurbished, could meet some new challenges when it comes to getting government approval to build.
"With Terminal 5 we had a blank canvas to work with – Terminal 2 exists in the middle of a fully functional airport operation, so we expect there could be a few challenges there as a result," Ashenden says.
As for Terminal 5's design, architects viewing the structure approved of the use of open space and simple lines as well as design features that disguise technology hubs throughout the airport, such as aluminium pole casings.
The new London Square – an outdoor area between check in and departures - was also welcomed, along with the sweeping views of the airport runways.
"We are trying to create a passenger experience regardless of whether you are arriving or departing," Ashenden says.
The building itself is five times as big as Terminal 4, and includes two satellite terminals (one to be opened in 2010) as well as 60 aircraft stands, a 4,000 space multi-storey car park, a 600-bed hotel and a driverless underground system that can carry 6,500 passengers per hour.
By Penny Jones