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‘A floating feather’: China’s latest airport design unveiled

<i>MAD Architects</i><br/>A digital rendering of the airport terminal's interior.
MAD Architects
A digital rendering of the airport terminal's interior.

Stephy Chung, CNN

One of China’s best-known architects, Ma Yansong, has unveiled his firm’s vision for a serene new airport terminal in the northeastern city of Changchun, Jilin province.

Intended to resemble a “floating feather” when viewed from above, the design was revealed Tuesday after Ma’s Beijing-based MAD Architects won an international competition to mastermind the expansion of Changchun’s Longjia International Airport.

Set across nearly 270,000 square meters (2.9 million square feet), the sprawling fan-shaped building will link with the airport’s two existing terminals while connecting directly to downtown Changchun via road and subway. It is expected to accommodate 22 million passengers annually when it completes, though an opening date is yet to be announced.

Created in collaboration with China Airport Planning & Design Institute and the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design, the proposal is among a slew of eye-catching new — or expanded — airports opening across China. Overseen by both international and domestic architects, recently completed projects include Beijing’s starfish-esque Daxing International Airport, which was led by the renowned Zaha Hadid Architects, and Chengdu New Tianfu International Airport, whose shape nods to a mythical sunbird.

According to the Transportation Network Planning Outline, issued by China’s government in early 2021, the country aims to have 400 airports in use by 2035 — a significant jump from the 241 operating in 2020.

Digital renderings released by MAD Architects show the Changchun terminal building clad in white, with slits along its gentle arches letting natural light in while emitting the glow of artificial light, producing an elegant golden effect. The terminal anchors what the firm describes as a “three-fingered corridor structure,” with planes pictured neatly parked around its 54 gates.

“The future large-scale transportation junction is first of all an important public space in the city,” Ma said in a press release about his firm’s winning design. “Art, synthesis, diversity, and humanity are all important.”

Nature-inspired aspects of the design include an indoor garden and trees, as well as a wooden ceiling that nods to the surrounding forests. The flowing, curvilinear aesthetic is in keeping with MAD Architects’ repertoire, with the firm’s buildings often informed by traditional Chinese “shanshui” (or “mountain and water”) landscape paintings.

Ma famously designed Inner Mongolia’s Ordos Museum, which was intended to represent the sun rising over the surrounding grasslands, and Fake Hills, an undulating oceanfront residential complex in Beihai, southern China. He is also one of the few Chinese architects to secure major commissions abroad, including the voluptuous Absolute Towers (nicknamed “Marilyn”) in Ontario, Canada, and LA’s forthcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, an otherworldly-looking arts space founded by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas. Set to open in 2025, the latter will include a grassy landscaped rooftop and 100,000 square feet of gallery space.

“I think in our modern cities there are a lot of boxes; there are a lot of straight lines,” he told CNN in a 2017 interview. “They often deal with efficiency, the function, the structure.

“There’s no nature. People love to go closer to nature and other people, so we need to create environments that let people have these emotional connections.”

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