Czech Lanterns for an Illuminated Welcome

MVRDV and NACO (Netherlands Airport Consultants) have joined forces to reimagine the landscape of Václav Havel Airport Prague, the largest and most significant airport in the Czech Republic. This project aims to enhance the airport’s facilities by introducing three cutting-edge structures that seamlessly blend functionality, sustainability, and aesthetic appeal.

“Most airport experiences these days have become detached from any sense of place, or any sense of control for the traveller,” says Winy Maas, Founding Partner, MVRDV. “At Prague this will soon be different. As you pass through security you will feel surrounded by the greenness of the Czech landscape – in the ceiling, which shows its green landscapes and, in the courtyards, nearby, which host plants that are recognisable from the Czech biotope. The experience will give a sense of calm and control… a moment to feel grounded, just before you take off. Coming back to the Czech Republic will give a sense of return, with the three Czech Lanterns guiding you home from afar.”

The design extends Terminal 1 of Václav Havel Airport Prague with new buildings for a central security facility of the airport’s security area, business and VIP lounges and a vertiport. On the other side of the airport loop road, another building will contain a hotel, conference centre, and parking facilities. These sustainable, hybrid structures offer the airport a great deal of flexibility to easily accommodate any future expansion or rearrangement. Meanwhile, the exteriors are ‘draped’ with an illuminated, programmable satellite image of the Czech Republic to form three “Czech Lanterns” that define a new airport boulevard and welcome visitors from afar.

“This is a unique project, one which we’re very proud to be a part of,” added Esther Kromhout, Director at NACO. “Underpinned by the principles of sustainability and building for the future, we’re also embracing unique design elements which will make for a very immersive, exciting experience as passengers pass through Václav Havel Airport Prague.”

Together, the three buildings will be the first elements of the airport that passengers see upon arrival, whether they are landing by plane, or travelling to the airport by car, taxi, or bus. The additions to Terminal 1 itself extend the existing departures hall eastward in two phases, with the first hosting additional passenger handling areas such as the security screening. A table-like, hybrid structural approach based on four supporting cores and large uninterrupted spans forms the flexible base for the new buildings. Concrete and steel are necessary for parts of the structure, while glued laminated timber joists support lightweight hollow concrete floors to reduce the structure’s embodied carbon.

With frontages onto both the airport loop and the airfield, the two airport terminal expansion buildings are designed to be as transparent as possible, allowing direct views through the building to the other side. Courtyards between the buildings are densely planted with local species of vegetation, giving the appearance of a thick forest on each side of the security area.

In the first phase, the security process is designed to be seamless: the vertiport access, as well as business and VIP lounges, are located on the first floor, allowing there to be no level changes or opaque barriers in the security area. This means that the travellers’ goal – the airfield – is always visible. Combined with the view onto nature at either side of the building, this helps to minimise the stress of travellers’ journey through the airport.

The second phase building is proposed as a ‘twin’ to the security expansion, with a similar size and the same structural principle. The design team reasoned that this building’s direct frontage onto the airfield would prove to be extremely valuable in the future as the airport continues to expand. With a simple and flexible layout, this building area could be easily transformed into a part of the airport’s handling areas in the future, avoiding a costly and unsustainable reconstruction process.

The buildings are ‘draped’ in a green satellite image of the Czech Republic, visible on both the roof and the ceiling of the interior. On the exterior, this printed glass incorporates photovoltaics to generate a portion of the energy used by the building. It also incorporates programmable lighting elements that allow the building to communicate information about various current events around the country. In addition to providing the buildings’ characteristic appearance, this printed glass also makes the project more sustainable by reducing solar irradiation at strategic points.

On the other side of the airport boulevard, the third building in the proposal hosts a conference venue and hotel atop a parking structure. Taking advantage of the wedge-shaped site, the design incorporates a grand, five-storey entrance lobby at its front corner that welcomes visitors driving towards the airport. Like the two airport expansion buildings, it is draped in a satellite image of the country, a portion of which features prominently on the lobby wall. As in the other buildings, flexibility is key to the design to accommodate potential changes in programme over time.

MVRDV and NACO (Netherlands Airport Consultants), a company of Royal HaskoningDHV, were selected for the design via a competition organised by CCEA MOBA on behalf of Prague Airport.