How can it be so simple? Bamboo and steel make a great terminal at Madrid Barajas Airport.

Terminal 4 at Madrid Barajas Airport, which opened 10 years ago (2006), represents a wonderful reinvention of the modern terminal building. Although it does not rethink the concept of a terminal building from the ground up, it is an example of how a classic terminal layout can be infused with novelty. Among the reasons for this, are the careful use of geometry and materiality that Richard Rogers Partnership (now, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, RSH+P) and Estudio Lamela (EL) have brought to its design.


The terminal buildings are laid down on a simple and clear linear pattern, but this by no means makes it a dull experience. This linear sequence is made pleasant by the use of a high-tech structural system featuring Y-shape columns and a rainbow coloured scheme to guide the passengers through the busy airport terminal. The columns support a varying sinusoidal steel structure that rises and falls between unequal peaks and troughs. However, what completes the airport roof experience, in all its industrial grandeur is the bamboo laminated ceiling that sways under most of the roof area and provides that warm human quality.


Singly curved laminated bamboo strips are placed across the terminal from side to side, while repeating this pattern all along the length of the main structure. As the steel changes from red into orange and green, eventually passing through blue to reach its violet conclusion, the bamboo ceiling remains the constant and unifying common feature. This is a very simple geometric logic that creates an efficient way to shift things within a huge building, without exploding the costs of construction. If one were to categorise the surface that the laminated bamboo strips and the steel combine to make together, it would be a ruled surface of curved bamboo strips that sweeps along a varying sinusoidal path (see picture below).

The airport building is a great achievement of clarity, in its structural system, in the excellent choice of materials and their use according to their best qualities. So, next time you land in Madrid Barajas Terminal 4, while making your journey from one end of the rainbow to the other, take a moment to deconstruct this wonderful building and take pleasure in its simplicity.

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Dragos Naicu BEng MPhil (PhD)*

Computational design specialist passionate about architecture, structural design, form finding and urbanism. Find him on: Twitter LinkedIn


*Dragos has finished his PhD at the University of Bath and is awaiting graduation.

The laminated bamboo strips were provided by MOSO International BV.

Edited by Hector Archila

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