Published by Landscape Architecture and Urbanism at University of Greenwich, London

Visions for Heathrow City

In 2013 the Airports Commission, established by the government, published a report, concluding that South East needs an additional runway by 2030 and possibly a second additional by 2050. The biggest pressure falls onto Heathrow Airport which currently runs at its full potential and there is no doubt that it needs a new strategy. Although, proposal to create a new hub airport on the Isle of Grain in the Inner Thames Estuary by Foster and Partners experienced contradictory evaluation, most likely Heathrow site will be vacated for new homes and jobs. Supported by Mayor of London three distinguished architectural practices were asked to come up with visions of what Heathrow City could look like. Rick Mather Architects, Hawkins\Brown and Maccreanor Lavington presented their visions at NLA this July. All foreseeing future trends in urbanism and city planning raise fundamental question: what could be the model of self-sustaining town?
Hawkins\Brown architects’ approach push three broad ideas: airship port, factory for homes and green belt. Capturing the spirit of air travel and adventures they exploit the potential of growing airship market, commercial aspects of freight travel and distribution. Parallel, new models of housing development are proposed. Concept, called Factory for Homes, offers opportunity for online design customization which relies on digital technologies and local fabrication. Most importantly, it considers a need for rejuvenation of ecosystems and natural habitats. Green Belt within a Green Belt would be one of the greatest London parks offering series of programs including localized food production.

Rick Mather Architects see sequential site transformation and natural evolution growing from current layout. System containing ten distinct character areas, embedded in wider landscape, suggests consideration of various scales: singular and collective, local, regional, national and international. Retained structures with new building inserts provides sense of place and legibility. Linear runway parks define the urban layout, terminals become centre points to local neighborhoods, wide range well considered housing typology and traditional clusters of retail, education and community uses suggests clear hierarchy. Being very schematic this project retains ability to adjust to multiple scenarios.

Rick Mather Architects
Maccreanor Lavington develop strategy of ‘culturalising’ the site. Fully functioning model of global city successfully delivered within an ecological, cultural, employment and liveability framework. By manipulating a selection of processes site can be flexible and responding to the market conditions. All happening simultaneously fall into four systems. Bioremediation includes recycling of structural materials, cleaning soil, rerouting of the river, tree planting, coppicing and powering CHP. These processes require vast amount of land, consequently drawing image of forested landscapes. Wet strategy includes rainwater management, recycling and filtration through the reed beds, in other words, comprehensive SuDS. Energy system suggests CHP generating electricity and heat, but the primary source of fuel is not well considered as biomass produced on site would cover only small percentage of demands. And finally, cultural system promotes intellectual development, employment and localized food production market. After all Maccreanor Lavington briefly touch housing typologies considering possibilities for temporary trial dwelling, self-build or custom build models, but project is theoretical and lacks consideration of site specific conditions and human experience exploration.

Maccreanor Lavington

What future cities will look like? These three projects represent variety of design approaches, from illustrative to programmatic, but highlight few themes in common: need for local green infrastructure, which offers more than decorative value, and serves as habitat, source of fuel and food; escape from prescriptive nature of conventional development and have freedom to design and build one’s living environment.

More information on Heathrow City available at:



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