City architect to design India’s highest airport

(Image: wikipedia)

The new Leh airport is being designed by one Australian and two Lucknow-based architects. The highest commercial airport in the country, the revamped Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, will open doors to those seeking serenity in Leh, soon.

The project has been initiated by the Airports Authority of India and involves three architecture consultants—Paul Mutton from Australia-based Guida Moseley Brown Architects and Vipul and Harsh Varshney from Lucknow-based Sthapati Associates. They have already started work on the airport.

The final designs have been submitted and approved and the Lucknow-based architects recently met the aviation minister in Delhi to take him through the project.

Keeping the philosophy of ancient Buddhist wisdom intertwined with modern ethos, the design closely incorporates Buddhist design elements in the structure. It is not just the facade and architecture that promise to wow the tourist, technology has been incorporated in such a way that the terminal is sustainable and environment friendly.

Placed at 3,256 metres above mean sea level, the airport terminal building has been planned across 16,500 square metres. While photo-voltaic cells for roof and external lighting will reduce 60% of electrical load, cavity walls will be built for thermal insulation. Besides, recycled water will be used for landscaping, and multi-function heat pump air-cooled chillers will produce chilled water all the year long. For other sanitary requirements, hot water will be produced with the same technology.

“The desert-like terrain and the harsh cold weather were two most important factors that had to be considered while designing the airport. They presented great difficulty as well, because the ambient temperature goes down to -16 degrees Celsius and freezes water. To prevent this, we had to use 45% of glycol water mixtures in the chillers of air conditioners,” says Vipul Varshney, founder of Sthapati Associates.

Recounting the experience of designing the project, Varshney says, “Because of site contours and assuring minimum carbon footprint, the whole building has been designed in different levels to minimize cutting and filling of land. The height difference between the main approach road and the runway was almost 10 meters. This is why four levels with four lounges and two separate security check areas have been designed so that passengers don’t feel any gradient difference.”

The difficulty of approach and climatic constraints propelled the design to be simple yet colourful, using pre-manufactured material to the maximum which will be assembled at the site. The use of glass and other destructible construction materials has been minimised so that airport functioning is not hindered due to their unavailability, owing to difficulty in ferrying material from the main land. The typical vernacular artefacts and landscaping will be produced by local craftsmen.


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