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Heathrow Airport MasterPlan

London, Hillingdon

Heathrow Airport Runway Airport

Sector: Industrial, Landscape, Master Planning, Transport
Client: Civil Aviation Authority/ British Airports Authority

The appointment for the masterplanning and design of Heathrow Airport was the commission that allowed Frederick Gibberd to recommence practice after WW2. It would remain one of the key areas of work for the following 35 years.

The government had requisitioned land around a private aerodrome to build RAF Heston, used for long-haul troop flights to the Far East, and laid out the ‘Star of David’ pattern of runways which still characterise the site today. At the end of the war the site was cleared of military buildings and handed over to the Civil Aviation Authority to commence a passenger service, with makeshift terminals in a tented city.

When operations began in 1946 there were 63,000 passenger per year, but it quickly became clear that passenger numbers would soon exceed all projections.  Seventy years on, three times that number use the airport daily, as Heathrow became one of the busiest airports in the world.

Gibberd’s plan developed the idea of three central terminals, with associated parking, serving Domestic, European and International flights, with easy interchange between all three. For the most part the drama was provided by the aircraft movement, constantly changing the outlook from the generously glazed structures. At the centre was the 122 ft high control tower, with shared services such as the subterranean St George’s Chapel, airline offices and ancillary spaces located between the terminals.

In 1955 the Queen opened the main administrative building, control tower and the Europa Terminal; the offices with its generous roof gardens and viewing terraces, was named ‘The Queen’s Building’ in her honour. Six years later the remainder of the temporary facilities were dismantled and the Oceanic Terminal was commissioned. In 1969, Terminal 1, the largest in Europe, was opened and the existing buildings re-named as Terminals 2 and 3.