Rooted in users’ experience

Grimshaw is leading a team to deliver a highly-integrated transport hub at Shenzhen airport, in a structure and circulation strategy inspired by mangrove trees

In April 2021, a design consortium led by Grimshaw, and including Mott MacDonald, China Aviation Planning and Design Institute (AVIC CAPDI) and Beijing Urban Construction Design and Development Group (BJUCD) won an international competition to design a new transport hub at Shenzhen airport.

The team selected for Shenzhen Airport East Integrated Transport Hub (which beat a strong set of contenders including ZHA, Foster + Partners and BIG) also includes Schlaich Bergermann Partner (SBP), Atelier Ten and Gross Max.

The client is Shenzhen Metro Corporation, and the sponsors China National Railway Corporation and the Shenzhen Municipal People’s Government. The Grimshaw team was announced as winner following an assessment by a bid evaluation committee of 13 experts in urban planning and design, architectural design, aviation, railway, urban rail, and integrated transportation.

Brief & response
The brief called for an “aspirational vision” for a hub that would “act as a new urban gateway and landmark for the Greater Bay Area,” said Grimshaw. It also set out goals to be “green, intelligent and humanistic,” including integrating the latest technologies with an aim to be a new benchmark for similar projects around the world.

A key design aim was to make the journeys of thousands of daily commuters using the hub as smooth and easy as possible. Grimshaw said the building is designed to provide “effortless transfers between high speed rail and other public transport modes.” The hub will also provide connections and terminal facilities for passengers travelling to and from Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport, making it “one of the most integrated transport interchanges in the world,” said the architects.

The mangrove tree, which inspired the design, has special significance for the city of Shenzhen, and is also believed to be one of the planet’s most effective carbon absorbers. It also helped inspire the circulation concept; the tree’s form of a “diverse root ecosystem, which thrives where waterways converge,” led the architects to the efficient design of the passengers’ journey, “both above and below ground, landside and airside,” said Grimshaw.

The transport interchange will be a “catalyst for the transformation of the whole east terminal area into a vibrant, people-oriented new commercial and cultural district for Shenzhen.” The masterplan has been designed to promote “intuitive routes” for passengers, as well as “active frontages” and “enriching landscape features.”

The dynamically-designed interiors will give passengers “breathtaking arrival and departure experiences” as they transit through the hub. The flowing architectural forms housing the spaces will help to guide people on their journeys through the largely naturally-lit interchange.

The project is designed to be an exemplar of environmental sustainability and is targeting LEED Platinum as well as Chinese 3 Star rating, through an architectural solution that uses materials efficiently and maximises repetition of components.

The team developed a strong set of design principles that will enable a “harmonious and unique development delivering operational, experiential and ecological excellence,” said Grimshaw.

Jolyon Brewis, partner at Grimshaw, commented on the project: “We are often inspired by the transfer of geometries and forms from nature into architecture. We have applied this approach to the masterplan and interchange design at Shenzhen Bao’an Airport. Not only does this have symbolic value for Shenzhen, it has also led us to a solution that is highly efficient. It will be a wonderful place for people to occupy and travel through, and we hope it will lift the spirits of millions of Shenzhen citizens, as well as those who visit this incredible city.”

Anne Kerr, Mott MacDonald China managing director said: “This project is a unique opportunity to create a world class, sustainable and passenger-centric hub.” Dave Richards, Atelier Ten director added: “The design builds on work that we have been doing with the team at Grimshaw for many years on biophilia, form and skin to ‘manage’ comfort and expectations through the manipulation of light, sun and air in the in-between spaces that transport interchanges generate.” He added: “The evocation of biophilic influence through the underlying mangrove forms serves to reinforce the connection to nature in this very busy city.”