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Suvarnabhumi Airport Museum a case study in sustainable design

Suvarnabhumi Airport has now been operational for nearly eight years and, despite the political complexity involved in its development and construction, the airport remains one of the few mega-projects driving Thailand's economic growth.

On the occasion of His Majesty the King's 84th birthday celebrations in 2011, the Airport Authority of Thailand, Suvarnabhumi's operator, decided to establish the Suvarnabhumi Airport Museum.

The building and interior-design schemes for the museum were completed in 2008, and construction took place from 2010 to 2012.

The museum complex consists of a central space that houses an exhibition on the airport's history. This main bay is surrounded by smaller satellite structures that accommodate airline offices, while a bridge connects the museum complex to the main terminal.

Sustainable design led the design brief for the museum. Design decisions were pursued in consideration of heat and noise reduction, daylighting, and reduction of UV and infrared exposure.

The green concept also extended to the construction phase. Contractors with little experience in building conservation attempted to reduce costs by proposing flammable insulation, a material which contradicts accepted building guidelines. These alternatives were, however, rejected in favour of truly sustainable materials.

The building was designed to reduce energy consumption, CO2 emissions and other damaging outputs. The main airport terminal consumes energy at a rate of as much as Bt3 million per day; in contrast, the design of the museum focuses on conservation and excellent provision of thermal, lighting, acoustic and visual performance.

The building consumes less energy, since the exterior wall has a thermal resistance, or R-value, which enhances interior cooling. The building's cooling load averages 100 square metres per tonne of air-conditioning, compared to the main terminal's load of 8-12 square metres per tonne.

The contemporary Thai-style interior of the main hall hosts an exhibition on the terminal's design concept, structural innovations, and sustainable-design principles.

The secondary exhibit features His Majesty's work pertaining to aeronautical activities, such as artificial rain, aerial photography, and aerial cartography.

The external landscaping was kept simple. Trees were planted in movable basins and fruit trees were avoided to dissuade settlements of birds, which can be dangerous for airport activities.

The HVAC system is unique. Fresh air passes into the building from the ceiling level and cycles back outside via rises in the floor. The rise is a lightweight system constructed from metal decks and non-flammable EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam as thermal insulation.

Lightly coloured ceramic tiles installed in the main hall maximise daylight in a reflective dialogue with the gypsum ceilings, allowing displays to be illuminated to exhibition standards. Window and door panel and frame types were selected to prevent heat and moisture from the air outside from entering the building - a straightforward way to reduce energy consumption.

Soundproofing, an urgent feature on account of the aircraft constantly flying overhead, was addressed by installation of a metal sheet roof on top of a sprayed polyurethane foam layer, air space and a 12-inch glass-fibre layer on the gypsum board ceiling. This roof detail reduces sound transmission extremely significantly

Energy conservation is also at work in the design of the roof and the walls. The roof's design follows Thai architectural precedents, with an overhang and a double roof to reduce architectural scaling. Walls were constructed from EPS foam with metal studs and fibre-cement boards, a detail with both thermal and sound properties. The overhang from the roof also prevents direct sunlight contact with the wall.

Overall, the museum is an active case study in sustainable design, which may provide cues in the renovation of the main airport terminal.


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