Sleeping Dragon Awakes — At World’s Newest Airport

Beijing’s new airport terminal has opened to much media acclaim. From The Age:

The terminal, built by 50,000 workers in four years after 10 villages were flattened, will increase ’s annual capacity from 35 million passengers to 85 million and make it one of the world’s five busiest airports.

The new terminal alone is almost 20% bigger than all five terminals combined at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Built partly as one of the architectural centrepieces of the 2008 Olympic Games — which open in Beijing on August 8 — it also reflects the explosive demand in air travel as Chinese citizens grow richer and are able to travel freely in ways unimaginable even two decades ago.

A commentary in the Independent compares the experience of building the new Beijing terminal to that of the soon-to-open terminal five at Heathrow:

Lord Foster makes the point succinctly: China has managed to design and build a new airport terminal twice the size of Heathrow’s Terminal Five in four years, less time than the Heathrow planning enquiry. He should know, for he has designed both terminals. China’s new terminal opens this week and Heathrow’s next month, but Beijing Capital airport differs in another respect. It has also, in the past four years, built a third runway, something that will clearly take somewhat longer here.

It is worth making the comparison, not to argue simplistically that we are falling behind in some sort of global economic race, still less that we should adopt the Chinese planning model. There are lots of reasons why we shouldn’t, of which more in a moment. But it would be extremely arrogant of us not to note what China is doing, both to set in context our own economic debates and also to try to see what we can learn from Chinese experience. The very fact of employing a British architect for such a high-profile project shows China is prepared to learn from us. Why should we now try to learn from them?

Read also “A Giant Airport for China’s Vast Ambition” from the BBC (see the video here). Watch a tour of the new terminal via ITN News:

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