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Beijing unveils Foster airport plan

Several designs for Beijing's remodeled airport have been on display.
Several designs for Beijing's remodeled airport have been on display.

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BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- Beijing has unveiled plans for a $2 billion airport terminal designed by Sir Norman Foster, the latest celebrity architect the 2008 Olympic hosts have hired to help remould a drab city overrun by smog and neon.

The Briton's firm, Foster and Partners, called their sleek creation a "modern gateway" to the Chinese capital, where just five years ago passengers were greeted by a cramped, musty structure that seemed a throwback to the spartan Maoist days.

Civil Aviation Administration Vice-Minister Yang Guoqing, in a ceremony for Chinese media on Sunday, pronounced Foster's firm winners of an international competition to build the 16 billion yuan ($1.93 billion) project, a British embassy spokesman said.

Foster joins a constellation of contemporary stars installing futuristic icons in a city ravaged by construction -- better known for its imperial landmarks, proletarian housing blocks and more recently, monstrous eyesores of tinted glass and lavatory tile.

Beijing has budgeted $37 billion for Olympic-related infrastructure and clean-up projects, though it was not clear whether or not that figure included the airport extension.

The Chinese capital has also recruited the Swiss duo Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron to sculpt its Olympic stadium and the Dutch guru Rem Koolhaas to mint a new home for state television broadcaster CCTV.

Frenchman Paul Andreu's new opera house, a bubble of glass and titanium, will surface in a pool beside Tiananmen Square next year.

Foster and Partners, in a statement on its Web site, touted their design as user-friendly and energy-saving.

The structure's "soaring aerodynamic roof reflects the poetry of flight as well as being evocative of traditional Chinese colours and symbols," it said.

"All passengers will enjoy the fully glazed single lofty space, daylit through rooflights and bathed in colour changing from red to yellow as you progress through it."

Hong Kong-listed Beijing Capital International Airport Co announced in September that the government had approved a 16.7 billion yuan expansion plan.

The airport's last makeover came in the form of a minimalist new terminal that opened in 1999.

But with traffic at China's busiest airport expected to more than double to 60 million passengers per year by 2015, from 27.5 million in 2002, a vast new terminal is needed, state media say.

Foster is collaborating on the project with British engineering outfit ARUP, an alliance that also forged the Chek Lap Kok International Airport in Hong Kong.

They will team up with the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design and Research, a leading state organ. China requires foreign architects to work with local partners.

Construction is set to begin next year and be completed by 2007, the Beijing Evening News said.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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