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This is what London's Heathrow airport would look like as a futuristic city

Mayor Boris Johnson wants to transform one of the world's busiest airports: three architecture firms imagine wildly different results

Concept art of a future Heathrow City and airship port
Concept art of a future Heathrow City and airship port

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.

Heathrow City: three proposals for future metropolis selected by London Mayor's Office


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)