London's Heathrow Airport is one of the world's busiest airports, serving 72.3 million travelers in 2013 alone, and demand for more flights is only growing. But in the near future, it could be replaced entirely with a city of 190,000 people. At least if London Mayor Boris Johnson gets his way.
In order to keep up with skyrocketing demand projected for Heathrow into 2050s, Johnson years ago began advocating that Heathrow be closed and a new airport be built 40 miles east on a rural island in the Thames Estuary. He's faced tremendous opposition from national politicians in the UK, and the latest environmental studies appear to have all but grounded the proposal. Still, the London Mayor's Office has gone ahead and commissioned three outlandishly ambitious proposals from leading architectural firms for what to do with the area now occupied by Heathrow if it does end up moving.
All of them would see airport terminals replaced with a futuristic metropolis of hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses, but they're quite distinct in their specific visions of a "Heathrow City." Architectural firm Hawkins\Brown wants to create a city of custom, 3D-printed homes and make it a major traffic hub for delivery drones (like the kind Amazon aims to build). Hunger Games fans take note: Rick-Mather, another firm, wants to create a city with ten different districts that specialize in different industries, aligned along the former airport runways in a kind of Nouveau-Medieval style, with a center hub that acts as the primary meeting place. Finally, while all of the cities feature some environmentally friendly aspects, the one proposed by Maccreanor Lavington puts sustainability front and center, proposing that many existing airport buildings be repurposed and that contaminated grounds be turned into biofuel.
Actually constructing a new airport and new city wouldn't be cheap: the new Thames Estuary airport on its own has estimated cost of over $170 billion (£100 billion), according to the Financial Times. But no matter what comes of Johnson's idea, the dreams of a future Heathrow City are fun to explore. — All images courtesy the London Mayor's Office, Maccreanor Lavington, Rick Mather, Hawkins\Brown.
- Hawkins\Brown's Heathrow City drone-port The future city would be the site of a new UK airport designed specifically for delivery drones. (Hawkins/Brown)
- Hawkins\Brown's Heathrow City airship port The city would also be a major port for a new series of ultra-efficient, safer dirigibles. (Hawkins\Brown)
- Hawkins\Brown's Heathrow City residences Under the architecture firm's proposal, the future city would have 80,000 homes and offer 90,000 jobs. (Hawkins\Brown)
- Hawkins\Brown's Heathrow City custom housing on-demand Residents in the new city would also be able to order their own customized houses online and have the parts shipped via drone. (Hawkins\Brown)
- Rick Mather's Heathrow City: old runways repurposed as roads Under architecture firm Rick Mather's proposal, Heathrow's old runways would become the major arteries of a new city, carving it into 10 districts. (Rick Mather)
- Rick Mather's Heathrow City central district Evoking 'the Hunger Games,' the plan would call for the center of Heathrow City to be the most dense urban area. (Rick Mather)
- Rick Mather's Heathrow City Several of the spaces between the runways would be reserved for large public parks. (Rick Mather)
- Rick Mather's Heathrow City energy and entertainment The plan calls for carving up the area now occupied by Heathrow into specialized sectors. One would focus on power generation, while another would host sports, festivals, and car races. (Rick Mather)
- Rick Mather's Heathrow City aerial shot The city seen from an airplane. (Rick Mather
- Rick Mather's Heathrow City diagram When viewed in diagram, the city takes on the appearance of a circuit board. (Rick Mather
- Maccreanor Lavington's Heathrow City transformation Maccreanor Lavington, the third firm selected by the London Mayor's Office, wants to transform Heathrow into an urban garden using environmental reclamation technologies. (Maccreanor Lavington)
- Maccreanor Lavington's Heathrow City The proposal calls for Heathrow to be transformed in stages, eventually allowing for new industries including mining and software development. (Maccreanor Lavington)
- Maccreanor Lavington's Heathrow Central Heathrow's giant Terminal 2 would be converted into a new civic center under the proposal. (Maccreanor Lavington)
- Maccreanor Lavington's Heathrow City residences The housing in the new Heathrow City would also follow a sustainable model, with multi-story apartments interspaced with parkland. (Maccreanor Lavington)
- Maccreanor Lavington's Heathrow Exchange Under the proposal, Terminal 5 would be converted to a large convention center. The city would also host a thriving tech sector. (Maccreanor Lavington)