With an almost impossible deadline to open a new airport in time for two global sporting events hosted in Brazil, our structural designers worked as part of an expert team to reduce timings and cut out unnecessary delays to meet the schedule. A further element of complexity was the range of forecasts for future airport capacity which meant flexibility for expansion needed to be built in from the start.

The opening of Viracopos International Airport for passengers was planned to provide extra capacity to accommodate the huge influx of international visitors expected for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics. The airport was already operating for cargo, but a new terminal and transport infrastructure were required.

Design chosen to enable quicker on-site construction

Our structural designers worked on the project alongside specialists from NACO, a company of Royal HaskoningDHV. To meet the extremely tight schedule, a range of special solutions were introduced in respect of decision making and design to accelerate on-site construction.

“We streamlined fundamental design decisions and agreed very quickly upon a fixed structural system leaving space for architects to develop floorplans,” said Michiel Visscher, structural engineer. “It enabled all the disciplines to work independently within these basic design parameters which really accelerated the design process.”

The terminal was based on a sway structure whereby columns supporting the building’s weight also provide stability. This avoids delays in construction relating to the need to wait for one phase to be completed before another can start.

Flexibility built in so airport can maintain operations during future expansion

The spacing for the column grid was based on NACO’s expert analysis of optimal terminal operations, again streamlining decisions. The use of the grid was also important to ensure future flexibility for expansion. The piers for passenger gates were positioned so future construction would avoid interaction with the existing structures and the gates could remain in operation. The building facades were also designed with expansion in mind. They were specified as panels which could be removed by crane and re-used on new sections.

“We anticipated issues and made sensible assumptions based on our wide experience. The principle applied was that we did not know everything but, to increase speed, we agreed a basic system which allowed us all to progress more quickly. It is an approach which can only work when all parties are prepared to work in this way,” Michiel added.

Car parking was similarly designed for quick construction and flexibility for expansion and the entire structural concept supported efficient logistical movement of people and vehicles. The airport was ready for touchdown of the Portuguese team when they arrived for the World Cup.

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