Frankly speaking, when it comes to the most attractive airport buildings, it is obvious that Kansai Airport should be taken into account. In fact, its main structure is now regarded as one of the most fantastic buildings of this type – not only in Japan, but also worldwide. The airport is rather well-known for its single terminal, which is regarded as the longest building in the world, the length of which is 1.7 kilometers from the edge to edge. It was founded by Renzo Piano, a famous Italian engineer. Featuring 4-story organization with long glass along with the aluminum frame topped off with roof of undulating wing shape, this is a truly remarkable creation.

Nevertheless, it is evident that this not simply a lovely and original building, but far more than this. Indeed, the Kansai Airport is created corresponding to the world’s harshest and most vital seismic design standards. In addition, it should be mentioned that the building even succeeded to stay unspoiled during two earthquakes – in 1995 and in 2011. Thesis: post-crisis Japanese architecture is definitely safe. Like any other architectural structures, it does have several controverting issues, but, in general, save and reliable structures are designed. Kansai International Airport, built on the reclaimed land, is a good example of vital safety and security issues when it comes to airport buildings worldwide. In addition, Japan is able to face with stoicism every facing accident. Besides, Japan has shown the whole world that all problems that occur may and must be solved.

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Airport Development and Extension in Kansai

Kansai region is the second biggest economic region and also the foremost region, taking into account lovely ancient capitals along with a number of centers of traditional culture, Kyoto and Nara. In this region there are three airports:

  • Kansai International Airport (KIA): 1st-class international airport operational round-the-clock;
  • Osaka International Airport as the domestic venue;
  • Kobe Airport: a regional airport of air traffic demand from the Kobe area.

Kansai International Airport

As it was already mentioned, Kansai International Airport is believed to be the top-class operational round-the-clock international airport. It was in 1994 when it was opened. Construction of the airport began in 1987. Built in the southeast of Osaka Bay five km offshore, the structure of Kansai International Airport takes into account the protection of the environment, properly resolving lots of issues regarding environmental problems at Osaka Airport. In such a way, the constantly growing demand for air transport in the region of Kansai is satisfied.

The total cost of Kansai Airport is 15 billion dollars, which represents 40% of the budget. The main item of expenditure was the struggle with subsidence of the island. After the construction, lowering of the island went at such a high rate that the airport was considered a structural technical disaster. However, currently this process of the ground sinking has been slowed down.

There are two terminal buildings in KIA:

  • The key terminal building (terminal 1) holds both global and local flights operated by the regular airlines.
  • (Terminal 2), the other terminal building serves as the terminal for global and local flights operated by low-cost airlines.

The owner of airport is Kansai International Airport Company ltd. It was founded on October 1, 1984. The company claims on cooperation with twenty-four air companies worldwide. It declares that there are 495 domestic flights a week and over 700 international flights.

Major Problems the Airport Has Experienced

Kansai International Airport is definitely one of the vital construction projects in the whole world. Its building caused a huge challenge because the place, where it had to be erected, was on the man-made island, which at first was only on papers. In addition, the building had to correspond to the major seismic and wind loading norms. 6,000 people were engaged in its construction. During its existence, the airport has experienced several serious problems. First of all, since the construction of the airport, the soil underneath the building started to sink. This process naturally stopped in 2003, which served as a signal to continue construction and extend the airport.  Nevertheless, the building is so great that it even managed to stay unspoiled during two earthquakes (1995 and 2011). But the airport authorities are constantly improving KIA to make it remain safe and reliable. The airport has faced lots of challenges. Despite all these troubles, today, the Kansai Airport serves as one of the most important gateways when it comes to Japan’s and even Asia’s air travel.

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Building Standard Law of Japan

Japan is such a country, where oceanic and continental plates can collide, causing tsunamis and earthquakes. Accordingly, the hurricane force winds also take place there. Therefore, the country features the harshest seismic design rules. It is important to add that according to Building Standard Law of Japan, there are two design degrees.

  • First Level is the earthquake with the arithmetic possibility of happening only once during the period of the design life of the building.
  • Meanwhile, the Second Level is an event of great earthquake.

It is obvious that any construction must withstand First Level without any major structural break or great building fabric damage, thus being capable to maintain serviceability. In its turn, Second Level might cause a solid loss of the structure with the building’s collapse. Thus, in order to follow the mentioned rules, terminal structures had to fulfill the dynamic analyses: the superstructure, 3-dimensional roof structures’ patterns and ground had to be carefully evaluated for all possible wind and seismic events. 4 months after its erection, the construction was tested. It was on 17th January 1995, when the earthquake, featuring up to 7.0 according to Richter scale, struck the Awajishima Island (Osaka Bay), which is about 30 kilometers from the KIA.

In addition, there were devastating outcomes, and 6,000 people lost their lives. As a result, the island suffered the perimeter settlement; however, the structure of the terminal remained unspoiled.16 years after, there was the powerful earthquake (11th March 2011), influencing the Japan’s north east shoreline. Needless to mention, this massive earthquake also triggered the tsunami. Therefore, 20,000 people died and, what is more, there was also a nuclear accident at Fukushima. The airport still managed to survive.

Difficulties of Construction

KIA has managed to accomplish its border of increase, being at the same time, constrained by city development and surrounded with mountains. The airport was moved offshore together with take-offs and landings over the water, thus managing to low the noise pollution to the occupied districts on land as well as general disturbance. Thus, this enabled twenty-four hours operation. Besides, according to the Japan’s Aircraft Noise Prevention Law, it has been agreed to that all planes must fly higher than 8,000ft over the land area. That it was important to regard the possibility that the noise complaints will occur in several regions, where there was no aircraft-flyover.

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Started with the manmade isle, the airport building was 5 km away from the eastern coast of Osaka Bay, that is, by the way, about 40 km south-west of the city of Osaka. The island is 4.4km long and 1.25km wide, covering in total about 510 hectares. Additionally, it should be noticed that the airport is connected to mainland by rather a solid bridge, which is 3.75 km long with two railway lines on the lower level and one roadway on the upper level.

The KIS’s undersea floor bed consists of layers of sand and clay. Therefore, as the sea starts to deepen, the layers thickness starts to increase. At the formation top, there is the so-called “Holocene clay layer”, which is 20m thick. Also, there is the Pleistocene layer, consisting of the additional hundreds of meters of hard clay and gravel adds layers, located below the Holocene clay layer.

It is interesting that Japan man-made isles are not a totally new idea. What is more, there are a number of artificial ones in Osaka Bay, including Rokko Island (1973-1992) and Kobe Port Island (1966-1981).  The isle for Kansai Airport, however, is located deeper (at 18.5m deep). It took more than three years to build it and it took a great deal of materials to form its platform, which were taken from the mountains. 48,000 tetrahedral concrete blocks were used as well as 443 million cubic meters of fill. Moreover, to fasten the alluvial clay consolidation before the construction began, taking into account excavations for 8- meter- deep- basement, one million of vertical sand drains at 2.5m centers over the island was installed. When it comes to transportation, it should be said that both conveyors and barges were utilized.

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In addition, KIA facilities, aside from terminal and runway, feature the maintenance hangars, railway station, harbor, parking, cargo handling, fuel storage and a shopping mall. When it goes about its total capacity, KIA annually deals with about160, 000 plane movements on a 3.5km runway. Accommodating twenty-five million passengers a year, the airport features 41 airplanes spots; each of them, in its turn, has the boarding bridge.

The airport’s most identifiable part, nevertheless, is a passengers’ steel-clad terminal, commissioned in 1988, according to the worldwide architectural competition. KIA looks like a glider when looking from above the terminal, with the basic structure as ‘body’ and departure and arrival gates placed in the terminal’s ‘wings’.

Furthermore, it is critical to stress that since the island itself is made on clay, it is obvious that that discrepancy settlement, which is caused by both the building and different loads from buildings, was likely to be predictable. To adjust all its levels, it was counteracted due to the installment of hydraulic jacks at its each column. In addition, jacking was utilized with the aim to defend the construction finishes when the differential settlement surpassed 1:400 in the basic structure and also1:600 in wings.

The Structure of Kansai International Airport

Regarding the KIA structure, it is steel framed with spans of 14.4m together with the concrete floors cast on steel deck plates. It has a curved roof, which was designed from the triangular sector of three dimensions, and also fused tubular stainless steel trusses, in fact, spanning across  the building between splayed supports 82.5m apart. Trusses are fixed at 4 meters centers and additional beams span across the trusses top, thus, this shapes the plastic hinges not far from the supporting points. The truss is supported by a prop from the frame on the atrium landside. The roof cantilevers out 15 meters over the access and drop off areas. What is more, steel parts are fixed with high-strength friction grip bolts. There are oblique panels of glazing on the roof while the atrium is fully glazed.

The main structure has the rolling roof profile, which was derived by observing the structure’s dynamic airflows. The cross-section is obtained from some arcs with contrary radii. The shape, therefore, makes the air pass from the landside to the runway side without utilization of closed conduits. Air jets are guided by the deflectors from the supply nozzles of a passenger courtyard’s landside along the ceiling, thus, in such a way draught-free climate control is obtained. The temperature is 20°C in winter and in summer it is at or below 26°C, including about 25-55 % comparative humidity. To manage local microclimate, there are individual circulating air-handling systems in waiting places, concessions, check-in desks, offices and the building’s end walls.

The basic structure and wings feature high degrees of natural day-lighting, thus the energy consumption is lowered. As to the ambient light degrees, they are kept at 200-300 lux. Furthermore, there are no columns in the public places. The fire alarms, lighting, CCTV, as well as other public address systems along with signage and flight data are featured within pillars, which are referred to ‘technical trees,’ dotting around the lovely interiors. Extra artificial lightning is obtained due to up-lighters and handrail lighting along escalators.

The key design’s concern is to develop comfortable spaces, accommodating user needs that are capable to save both time and effort. Generally speaking, today, there are a great number of design ways to allow people to follow concrete pathway, with an aim to save efforts and time. Needless to add, various vehicles, air and ground features have a really huge impact on the planning, since both travelers and products shippers are more interested in total travel time, not only in the flight duration. As a result, it is obvious that the access to KIA is regarded as the key issue in the planning. Moreover, the linear design for the public terminal in the Kansai airport is to make the pathway to the aircraft less.

The location of KIA has made it rather autonomous when it comes to supplying power for the airport and airbuses. There is an own power plan, providing electrical power. Moreover, there are piers in KIA, where boats are able to deliver the required quantity of fuel. It is from the piers through the pipes that fuel is transmitted towards the fuel storage space. In addition, pipes help to withstand possible sinking and natural tragedies as well. There is a special “clean center” in the airport, which is specially designed to be capable to lessen the waste, which is caused by a great deal of flights. To lower the environment influence, all the recyclables are divided, while waste is incinerated.


When it comes to security, it is obvious that at KIA it is the most vital priority. At all times the local Coast Guard observes the large amount of water, surrounding the airport, and right away transmits about other boats that seem suspicious. To be able to monitor the airport’s land spots, there are security cameras implemented.  Invisible ultraviolet light constantly surrounds the runway and in case of any problems, it reports about the problem to the authorities.  In addition to this, there was designed a special air traffic control tower, taking into account all safety and communication issues.  This tower is rather high and besides it offers a 360 degree view, thus, enabling clear view of a  plane as well as any incidents, which can be instantly noticed. Connected to the weather center, this tower obtains all data regarding dangerous or severe weather conditions. Finally, the KIA’s air traffic control tower is able to comprehend any weather data, safely directing the airbuses in all possible hazardous circumstances.

KIA Renovation

Generally speaking, a huge number of innovations have been already implied in the airport creation, however, the officials of KIA are constantly thinking of other innovative ideas, which should be added in the nearest future. By the way, last renovation of Kansai Airport was held in 2012, during which the airport passed the state examination and was found suitable for use in accordance with international safety standards.

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