T2 Dublin Airport – A Complex Beauty

Europe’s newest aviation gateway, Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport, resolves the chronic passenger congestion problems that had bedevilled the airport in recent years while also giving the country an iconic new building. 

Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport was not only the largest construction project in the history of the state, arguably it was also one of the country’s most complex. Constructing a high-spec, high-tech  1million sq.ft. development in the middle of a fully-functional airport was the engineering equivalent of open heart surgery, says Colm Moran, Dublin Airport Authority’s chief asset management and development officer.

“People don’t realise how sophisticated and complex a building it is,” says Paul Coughlan, a director with Arup, who were the lead consultant and design engineers. “The public see the exterior and the interior fit-out and finishes, but that isn’t really the airport terminal. The airport terminal is the systems that make it work and the building is wrapped around those systems, all of which have to be fully integrated and working together.”

Moran adds: “There are some 200 different systems working within the building, ranging from the baggage handling to the BMS, the BES and the zoned fire alarms. The baggage system comprises  6km of conveyors – there is not a factory line in Ireland that would use that amount. Further complexity was created by the fact that the terminal has a US immigration and customs pre-clearance facility, the second after Shannon outside North America and the Caribbean, and all the details in the construction of that area had to be signed-off in advance by the US Department of Homeland Security. The main security area also had to be designed to be as flexible as possible to allow for any future changes in airport regulations.”

Systems sophistication aside, there is no doubt that the silver-clad terminal, with its sweeping curved exterior walls and roofs has been given an eye-catching design by architects Pascall+Watson. Inside, the interior is bright, airy and spacious, with natural lighting from overhead and sweeping exterior views via the glazed walls at either end of the building. The overall effect is calming and is a marked contrast to the low-ceilinged, artificially-lit environment found in Terminal 1. Moran adds: “In addition to increasing the natural lighting, the central glazed channel overhead is like a way marker that acts as a guide to take you from airside to landside.”

The new terminal building, which had a construction cost of €600 million increases the airport’s passenger capacity to more than 30m passengers a year.  Almost 50% of the airport’s passengers have transferred to T2 and Terminal 1 is now much less crowded thanks to the neighbouring facility.  In addition to the 750,000sq.ft. terminal, with its 58 check-in desks, 18 x-ray machines and 18 immigration booths, the project also includes Pier E, a 250,000sq.ft structure providing the airport with 25 new departure gates.

From the exterior, it is obvious that Terminal 2 is a building of two elements, with a wide connecting bridge between the two and an approach road bisecting the structure. However within the building  one feels no sense of division between the two areas. Moran says: “The road passing beneath the building is one of the cleverest pieces of the design.  The airport road layout now forms concentric circles that allow vehicles to approach Terminal 2 without going near Terminal 1 and vice versa, it’s an excellent solution that substantially reduces traffic movements. Previously, in another role, I had worked on the airport master development plan and a good traffic circulation  within the campus was always one of the greatest challenges. The project team of lead consultant engineers Arup, architects Pascall+Watson, construction managers Mace and independent cost consultants Davis Langdon PKS, was appointed in February 2006. Founded in 1946, Arup is one of Ireland’s leading consulting engineering practices, employing 300 people in this country and the practice has extensive experience in working on airport projects – currently it is involved in building airports in Azerbaijan and Kuwait and it is advising on the transfer of ownership of two Spanish airports. P+W is a specialist in transport project design and its portfolio includes work on more than 20 airports.

Planning permission was granted in August of that year, but following appeals final planning permission wasn’t granted until August 2007, with construction work starting on 1st October that year. One of the first challenges facing the team was mapping the existing infrastructure and deciding what was redundant and what needed to be salvaged. Moran said: “There were hundreds and hundreds of cables and we couldn’t assume that any of them were dead and no longer in use, each had to be checked and, if necessary moved. The survey also found fuel reservoirs that had once been used by car-hire operators and which needed to be dealt with.”

The first concrete pour was in February 2008, starting with T2’s energy centre, which required several 12-hour long pours – the centre is a big advance on the turf-fired boiler room that heated the original Desmond FitzGerald-designed terminal building (which is considered Ireland’s most important pre-war building in the International Style).

Steel erection started a month later and by September 2008 the structure was ready for cladding and glazing, an operation carried out largely by a Portuguese-Irish consortium comprising Martifer, Mota-Engil and Coffey Construction. “It was a landmark contract for the Portuguese companies as it was their first big contract outside the Iberian Peninsula,” said Moran. “They brought more than 200 of their own people over to do the job and they delivered on time and on budget.”

Once the building was made watertight, work on the interior could begin and PJ Hegarty & Sons, and engineering firm that has earned a reputation for quality with such projects as the Dublin Criminal Court Complex, the Elysian Apartments in Cork and Fingal County Hall, was given responsibility for the fit out. “We were responsible for everything you see inside the Terminal and Pier E, the floor, the walls, the ceilings, all the glass, the furnishings, the desks and the chairs.” says PJ Hegarty & Son’s director Declan O’Grady. “The architect chose a colour scheme inspired by the Irish landscape and presented use with a concept design and then we presented the clients with a range of options that met their brief. For example, the floor was to be brown and speckled and easy to maintain and we provided a range of possibilities that fitted that brief. There was extensive consultation and complete mock-ups done of nearly everything before a final decision was made – we had a complete, fully-functional, toilet block built in a warehouse and had all the stake holders, the airport operator, the maintenance people, come to look at it and give their views on what worked best.

“One innovation within the building is the fabric ceiling – it looks like plasterboard, but is lighter and has a seamless finish.  Because of the speed of the procurement, extra care was needed to protect some of the sensitive finishes, as the materials were being stored in an unheated building.”

In addition to fitting out the terminal building, PJ Hegarty & Sons were also the contractors on Pier E, a three-storey building that is 425m long, with 11 nodes serving 19 airbridges and 25 gates. “We took from concept design and built the entire building from ground up to the final finishes,” said O’Grady. “Working in a live airport environment close to aircraft taxiways required detailed co-ordination with the airport operations team throughout the entire construction programme. There was also the challenge of installing the 25m link-bridge between Pier E and the Terminal, which required the escalators to be installed first and then the structure and finishes to be built around the escalators.

“We had about 70 staff working on the project and more than 1,000 sub-contractors, with the vast majority of them and our suppliers being Irish, for example the desks are provided by Fitzgeralds of Kells. There was a great interest in this project, because it was a landmark building and also because 1million square-foot projects don’t come around that often.”

Moran said: “I don’t think there was a county in Ireland that didn’t have a company that was involved in either sub-contracting or supplying materials to the project. It was a great generator of employment.” Nevertheless, O’Grady said: “It was a challenge to procure everything within quite a tight time frame – this was a period when the Irish construction industry was still busy and there is a substantial amount of resources needed for a fit-out of this size. Certainly, it was the biggest project that I’ve ever been involved in.”

The baggage handling system was supplied and installed by Siemens and it is a credit to the project team that the terminal suffered none of the embarrassing problems that affected Heathrow Airport when failures in the baggage handling system led to flight cancellations and thousands of passengers travelling without their luggage.

DAA public affairs director Paul O’Kane said: “We avoided baggage handling problems because we put a strong focus on staff training and because we did practices involving sending grab bags, suitcases and golfbags, hundreds, maybe thousands, of times through the system. We also had a dress rehearsal in October, a month before we opened and became operational, where nearly 4,000 members of the public volunteered to come up to the airport to help us test our systems – we checked them in, took their baggage, passed them through security and put them on a plane, before taking them off the plane, past immigration, into the baggage reclaim area and out to the arrivals hall and then did that all over again. That cooperation from the public helped ensure that everything worked on the first day we were open for business and then once we were open we didn’t do so at maximum capacity, we built up activity on a phased basis to ensure that everything worked smoothly.”

Aer Lingus were the first carrier to use T2 and it now also serves American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, US Airways and Delta.

Apart from the baggage handling system, all other mechanical and electrical systems were installed by Mercury Engineering, with director Frank Matthews describing it as ‘a very complex project’. He said: “The systems installed included: more than 27km of ductwork, 102 BMS control stations and more than 5,000 BMS interfaces; 30km of LV cabling, 10km ELV cabling and 5km MV cabling; 400 distribution boards and more than 7,000 circuits, 47km of pipework and 1,100 plus valves; 14,000 fire alarm devices plus 2,000 third-party fire alarm connections; 16,000 lighting fittings and 3,500 emergency lighting fittings; a sprinkler system with 18,500 sprinkler heads and 66km of pipework and 1,500 data points with 70km of data cabling.

“Integration of all the systems into the building system integration (BSI) module was a major challenge, but we were helped by using a 3D modelling tool for services co-ordination and off-site modularisation and pre-fabrication to minimise site works and complete works on schedule. The BSI involved providing a common platform to access, control and monitor a wide variety of sub-systems including: the vertical and horizontal transport management systems, the building management system, the CCTVs, the live safety systems, lighting control, baggage handling and power management. At the peak of our activity, we had 740 people on site, with a project office staff of about 90 people. We also had a team of 14 safety officers working with the DAA, Arup, MACE and the other key contractors to deliver a safe working environment for all site employees and Mercury was responsible for the project supervisor construction stage (PSCS) during the intensive building period.”

While the requirement to keep the airport open and fully-functional during the three-year long construction period was critical, safety was seen by all parties as an even more important issue, not only for the construction workers but for all of the airport’s users: one lose piece of building site debris had the potential to cause catastrophic damage to aircraft or aviation equipment. Remarkably, thanks to an excellent safety culture, during one phase of construction there was more than two-million man hours worked without a lost time incident (LTI), said O’Kane. “We had a bottom up and top down approach to promoting a very strong safety culture, so there was safety leadership and a team approach, with everyone not only responsible for their own safety but for the safety of those around them. There were 20 reportable incidents with the loss of three days work, but there were no serious accidents.

“There was a dedicated five-minute period set aside three times a day where people stood down and cleaned and tidied the area around them. We had standardised personal protection equipment (PPE) for everyone – gloves, glasses, boots and high-visibility vests. If you were seen without your PPE, you were immediately stood down. We had regular town hall meetings on safety and we sponsored a painting competition for the children of site workers on the theme ‘Safety at T2 – Bring Daddy Home’. We also got all 17 of the main contractors to contribute funding, which the DAA then matched, towards providing raffle prizes when we hit key milestones, such as half-a-million accident free hours.  When we reached the two-million hours without an accident milestone, we raffled a car!”

At its peak, Terminal 2 was the largest construction project in the state, employing up to 2,600 workers on site. During three years of construction, more than 10,400 men and women were involved in the project.  Coughlan said: “As a project director you are taking on a huge responsibility for the safety of people when you embark on a major construction project. Your worst nightmare is that someone will get killed or seriously injured and construction is a dangerous business. We worked more than 10million man hours and had no serious injuries or fatalities – that in itself is a huge success for the project.”

The other major success is the contrast between arriving and departing at Dublin Airport through T2 and making the same journey through T1 just over five years ago. In the mid-1990s, Dublin Airport was operating at almost full capacity during peak travel periods, with long queues at check-ins and security gates. T2 has relieved congestion in the old terminal building, while T2 itself has an interior decor that speaks of modernity, quality and quiet calm. The new terminal has the capacity to handle 15 million passengers annually, thereby allowing the airport to handle more than 30 million passengers a year. As the terminal approached completion, naysayers were declaring that T2 was an unnecessary piece of infrastructure as the economic downturn had caused passenger numbers to plummet. However such criticisyears time. T2 is a building that is designed to meet Ireland’s air travel needs for the next 50 years and, from the feedback we’ve received, it looks like it will do that very successfully.”