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Oslo’s green airport comes in to land

Nordic – Office of Architecture’s refurbishment sets a benchmark in a notoriously unsustainable industry

Looking along the extended departures hall, the huge glulam timber lattice roof allows daylight to pour into the terminal building.
Looking along the extended departures hall, the huge glulam timber lattice roof allows daylight to pour into the terminal building. Credit: Knut Ramstad

Burning around 300bn litres of jet fuel a year, and contributing around 5% to global CO2 emissions, aviation is not known for its sustainable credentials. The high-energy consuming, artificially lit, air conditioned, buildings that serve this industry in many ways reflect it. 

While buildings in almost every sector are achieving greater energy efficiency, airports have largely resisted the drive to sustainable design. Nordic – Office of Architecture, however, has bucked this trend with Oslo Airport, which claims to be the world’s greenest terminal. 

The Oslo-based practice designed the original airport in 1998 and almost 20 years later has completed a renovation that almost doubles its size and capacity. The expansion has increased the terminal from 148,000m² to 265,000m², with both arrivals and departure halls expanded to 52,000m². This raised total capacity to 32 million passengers a year from 17 million. Along with expanding the terminal building, Nordic – Office of Architecture reconstructed the train station and added a striking 300m-long pier.

  • Curved glulam beams create the cylindrical form of the new 300m long piers that increase handling capacity to 32 million.
    Curved glulam beams create the cylindrical form of the new 300m long piers that increase handling capacity to 32 million. Credit: Dag Spant
  • Newly incorporated access to the airport’s rail station gives airport users greater visual legibility.
    Newly incorporated access to the airport’s rail station gives airport users greater visual legibility. Credit: Ivan Brodey
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This time, however, there has been a far greater emphasis on sustainability, says Astrid Bugge Frøvig, interior architect at the firm. ‘Not only has our view on contemporary architecture developed, respect to environmental matters and universal design has also grown.’ The first airport to receive a BREEAM Excellent sustainability rating, this building, made from recycled steel, Scandinavian timber and volcanic ash-mixed-concrete, uses various eco-solutions. Most unusual is the use of snow for cooling. 

In winter, snowfall ploughed from the runways will be collected in a system of reservoirs beneath the building and covered with insulating sawdust. Holding more than 2 million gallons of snow, these basins will be used as coolant for the building during the summer months. According to the building’s architect, this is the first time the system has ever been used and it will save as much as 2GWh of energy each year.

While these basins are invisible, the overall sustainable agenda is highly visible in the form, materials and interiors of the new spaces. Although aesthetically the expansion of the central building is largely a continuation of the practice’s existing design, the new north pier is differentiated with a unique expression.

From the exterior, limited glazing controls both excessive solar gain and heat loss.
From the exterior, limited glazing controls both excessive solar gain and heat loss. Credit: Ivan Bradley

‘We let the existing design inspire, not ­restrict, our ideas. We wanted to create contemporary interiors in harmony with the existing. Simplicity, spacious volumes and a Nordic impression have been key factors,’ says Frøvig.

The form of the pier is the result of an intensive environmental and sunlight study. It includes a roof of curved glulam beams ­designed to minimise solar heat gain and loss and use throughout of recycled steel and environmentally friendly concrete mixed with volcanic ash. Inside, the new pier is entirely clad in timber from Scandinavian forests. This also gives the building a culture-specific feel, says Frøvig: ‘The wood cladding creates a Nordic expression, together with other materials that express the cold winter climate with snow and ice.’

While the terminal does not have the vast glazed walls often associated with modern airports, the architect used glass in the facade and ceiling: ‘The natural changing of daylight and shadow gives life to the interior and emphasises the design, colours and surfaces of the materials and the Nordic impression,’ explains Frøvig.

Artificial lighting follows the natural light, with diodes controlled to follow the hours of day and night, weather and the season. So grey as well as sunny days are reflected in the interior.

The architect’s concept diagram simply explains the new interventions on its 1998 terminal building.
The architect’s concept diagram simply explains the new interventions on its 1998 terminal building.

Nordic – Office of Architecture’s new terminal is undoubtedly a sustainability success and a benchmark for what this often power-hungry building typology should be achieving. Although this is admirable, the focus on this strict agenda has potentially compromised the building’s aesthetic, creating slightly bland and uninspired interior spaces. 

However, just as Oslo Airport is considered a gateway to Scandinavia, Nordic – Office of Architecture has forged an entry point to smart sustainable design for the industry.