International Airport Terminal Project is a Model for the Future

The opening of an innovative airport marks a new era in seismic safety design, expedited planning, and building construction

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On Oct. 31, 2009, the new Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SGIA) terminal opened in Istanbul, Turkey.  The SGIA terminal features the largest seismically isolated building in the world, designed and constructed at record speed.

“The new Istanbul airport terminal is a model for the future,” says Atila Zekioglu, principal of Arup, and seismic expert for Arup’s airport design team.

“Using its international network of experts, Arup shattered industry standards to redefine what is possible,” Zekioglu says. “As a result, the Sabiha Gökçen International Airport terminal project will be recognized globally for its superior earthquake safety features and completion in record time.”

In just 18 months, Arup’s global airport planning and engineering team, in collaboration with Dogan Tekeli Sami Sisa Mimarlik Ofisi (architect) and LIMAK-GMR JV (contractor), helped transform vacant land into the most technologically superior structure of its size in the world, featuring seismic safety measures that surpass U.S. building standards. LIMAK-GMR JV’s construction crews completed the airport terminal in a fraction of the time that similar projects typically require.

The 2.15 million-square-foot building uses 300 seismic isolators at ground level to help absorb and dissipate energy from seismic waves. These isolators will enable the building to move in a controlled manner if an earthquake occurs. Using extensive testing and earthquake simulations, engineers determined that isolators will help the building withstand a 7.5 to 8.0 earthquake.

“The airport terminal is designed to save lives and property,” Zekioglu says. “After undergoing extensive testing and 14 quake simulations, we’re confident that the design will safeguard a major financial investment and preserve an international transportation system so that it may continue functioning if an earthquake strikes.”

Earthquake Safety
Ensuring earthquake safety and maintaining the continuity of this nationally important strategic facility was a top priority for LIMAK-GMR-MAHB Consortium (investor/developer/operator) and Arup designers. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the 1999 Kocaeli earthquake in Turkey killed 17,000 people, injured 50,000, and destroyed 27,000 buildings, leaving 500,000 homeless. Estimates of property losses range from $3 billion to $6.5 billion. Arup used the most sophisticated engineering available to protect lives and property if another quake occurs.

Arup’s airport planners, designers, and engineers developed solutions for specialist airport systems, including baggage handling, passenger boarding bridges, vertical circulation, and façades, which will enable the prompt return to operation of the airport following an earthquake. 


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