Designed by Renzo Piano, standing on an artificial island in the middle of Osaka Bay, Kansai international airport is considered one of the busiest and innovative airports around Asia. The necessity for another airport came to relieve the overcrowding of the Itami airport that couldn’t be expanded owing to its spatial limitations, as the airport was located in a densely populated suburban area the plans of expansion couldn’t come alive. The airport plan was also a part of the revitalization agenda of Osaka to refrain from losing its economic and cultural ground to Tokyo. The location was chosen offshore allowing the airport to operate around the clock.

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Kansai International Airport ©sky front


Architectural style and sea wall erection

The architectural style of the Kansai International Airport reflects the norms of the high-tech architecture movement that was predominant in the twentieth century, and Renzo Piano was one-of-the-note-worthy architects who were a part of it. After 20 years of tedious planning, the construction was divided into different phases. 

Between the years of 1987-1991, the island was created using a sea-wall to determine the periphery built using rock and tetrapods, and to lay the foundation, a million sand drains were built into the clay that helped in removing the water and solidifying the clay. Three mountains, ten thousand workers, and ten million hours of rigorous effort contributed to the earth over the seafloor. Also, a three-kilometer bridge was constructed that connected the island to the mainland.

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Sea wall ©KIAC – Hiwatashi Kanji – Fondazione Renzo Piano

Spaces and ventilation

The spaces included terminal 1, terminal 2, Aeroplaza (multi-purpose facility), control tower, Osaka international post office, Access bridge, observation hall, wastewater treatment plants, etc. The airport construction began in the year 1991. The idea behind the design was to make it simple and efficient. 

The highlight feature of the airport has to be its curvaceous roof design that helps in two ways 1) air circulation 2) unobstructed view from the control tower. The roof design utilizes its curvy shape to circulate the air using ducts on both sides that are enhanced by the suspension of mobiles. While Terminal 1 is a single four-story building that is acclaimed to be the longest airport terminal in the world, Terminal 2 is a single-story building that was built later to minimize operating costs.

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Kansai International Airport Plan ©wikimedia commons
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Drawings of Kansai International Airport © Fondazione Renzo Piano

Design features

Terminal 1 and 2 are not directly connected but via SORA park through which you can walk over from one to another or take any transportation option provided within the airport that includes rail, bus, ferry, and eco-cars. Along with the scooped ceiling, the structural design also includes warren based triangular three-dimensional truss. 

To make it earth-quake resistant, the foundation consists of nine hundred pillars, made of 3,60,000 tonnes of iron ore that replaces the excavated soil. The roof and the wall are not rigidly connected to reduce the shock that could pass through and braced with a series of cylindrical steel members combined with tension cables to exhibit maximum resistance. The structure and envelope are linked via double bow trusses. A curved glazing wall system was implemented in the passenger gate wings.

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Exterior of the airport © Shinkenchiku-sha – Fondazione Renzo Piano

Materials and construction

For the construction of Kansai international airport, multiple divers dove in the water to study the soil type and construct the sea wall using tetrapods that are the primary material in coastal engineering that prevents erosion and helps as enforcement. The airport has been predicted to stand at least 4m above sea level for 50 years, but its rapid sinking rate opposed to the analysis was solved using adjustable columns. As a result, the rate has considerably reduced. 

Kansai international airport is one of the most expensive projects in history due to its additional costs. The façade included glass pane cladding with infused rubber elements to beat the weather. The famous roof consists of over 90,000 stainless steel tiles that require easy installation and provide reflectivity keeping the interior intact and unaffected.

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Airport structure ©dezeen


One of the primary objectives of the Kansai International airport was to make it a smart airport that is not only people friendly but also earth-friendly. The principal energy sources of the Kansai international airport include electricity, natural gas, hydrogen, and wind power. The sustainable practices implemented revolved around three principles (Green innovations, eco operations, and eco – relations) and five concerns (Recycling, biodiversity, local environment, co-existing and minimal impact). 

As most of the energy consumption went into HVAC systems, a seasonal study was conducted assuring that electrical consumption was maximum during winters and summers. As a response to this, fully automated air conditioning systems came into place that have their on and off function connected to the airport’s passenger system, ensuring a significant decrease in energy consumption of the passenger terminals. Since LED is the best choice for energy efficiency and sustainability, the airport is on a path of a complete transition to LED lighting.

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Aerial view © KIAC – Kawatetsu – Fondazione Renzo Piano

As a part of the photovoltaic system, 70,000 solar panels are placed on cargo terminal roofs and on the lands adjacent to the runway, which contributes to 7 percent of the airport’s total energy consumption. In the SORA park, three small wind turbines are placed and analyzed for their performance and contribution to energy consumption. The airport has a wastewater treatment zone that recycles used wastewater to provide good quality water that exceeds legal standards. 

The airport has its incineration plant to manage all the waste and use it to provide fuel. A hydrogen power station was established in the year 2007, assuming hydrogen to be the ultimate clean energy source, specifically when produced using renewable sources. Therefore, the airport utilizes the element in its hydrogen grid project, used in forklifts and replacing the traditional GSE propulsion system. It is a source of fuel for airport transition inside, inspiring more low emission and eco-transport facilities. Kansai International Airport Energy Conservation Committee was established in the year 2002 to oversee energy consumption and improve energy efficiency.

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Solar panels © solar frontier

The Kansai international airport is an architectural marvel that has crossed many bumps along the journey yet stood the test of time. The design and its traits have a lot to offer that can be applied to public buildings globally, especially its sustainability features, as it is vital to make the energy-intensive public buildings smart and more earth-friendly.


Kamalavinayagam is a passionate designer and a self-taught writer whose interests also include films, food and music. She is an avid learner who is here to research, analyze and understand different fields of design and provide her take on how they influence the world.

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