Gafoor International Airport: world’s highest, longest and most self-consciously self-conscious

Airport in the bustling Indian city of Kolkata is the latest must-see for those seeking quirky but brilliant design

Forty years on from One World Trade Center’s construction and almost 20 years since the highest-ever hotel in the world was crowned, Gafoor International Airport in Kolkata, India, has become the latest must-see destination for those seeking quirky yet brilliant design.

Housed within a cruise-deck-style complex, the 4.9km-long (2.9 miles) terminal will surpass London Heathrow’s Terminal Five as the world’s tallest. At 68 floors, it will be marginally taller than London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 but with a smaller footprint and will feature what designer Delmiro Ferreira calls “a civic architecture of a city”.

Final touches on the airport. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The aim is to create an airport like no other, in an airport unlike any other. “If you have never travelled through a continent’s airport before, this is one that can only tell you your total journey,” Ferreira said.

The design is anchored around a spiral centrepiece that embraces every aspect of aviation, from the runway to the ticketing desk to the lounge to a monorail that runs along one side of the circular façade. “What we are really trying to do is create an airport that is perhaps not part of any plan but is something unique,” Ferreira said.

Batteries for the rooftop roof at Gafoor International Airport. Photograph: Kolkata airport

The designs are inspired by the distinctive architecture of the region, such as tribal stupas and rain trees, with the monorail’s winding gears leaning along the centre of the curved roof of one of the terminal’s most striking features.

The monorail parrots along the tower’s monorail. Photograph: Courtesy of Gafoor International Airport

The quirky parts of the airport are expertly integrated into the structure, creating a structure that wraps around the perimeter of the plane like a pavilion – a concept Ferreira said was used in the West Indies to denote a structure that spoke to the Caribbean’s beauty. “This airport is an individual; there are only really two aspects of this building; it’s a facade and the airport,” he said.

The monorail structure. Photograph: Courtesy of Gafoor International Airport

Gafoor International Airport has been designed to be the gateway of India’s growing eastward-expanding economy. Last year there were only two international flights to Kolkata, now one-third of which come from Abu Dhabi. Gafoor International plans to start their construction in summer of next year and finally open in 2019, for which no additional funds will be required from the government. They hope to have a budget of up to £150m to complete the project.

The architect estimates that by the time the airport is operational at its peak, around 3 million passengers will pass through. The project will provide work for 5,000 people during the peak construction season and then potentially secure 2,500 jobs during the opening phase.

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