Airport Feature / Asaf Ramon International Airport

Asaf Ramon International Airport designed by Amir Mann-Ami Shinar Architects

Founded in 1948, Israel is a relatively new country. But you wouldn't know it after flying into one of its airports. For more than a half century, the country's airports have stood in contrast to many other parts of the country. Which is to say, they were rather outdated. Yet that's no longer the case, as Israel's newest airport, Ilan and Asaf Ramon International Airport, is a modern edifice that stands in stark contrast to its vast desert surroundings.

The new airport—which was named after Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon (who died in the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster) and his son Asaf, an Israeli Air Force pilot (who died during a training exercise)—is a $473.5 million structure that's slated to begin operations this winter. As many can imagine, designing and building an airport is a particularly difficult challenge. Architects are tasked with designing a space like no other in the sense that it's meant to serve some of the largest vessels of transportation in the world, all while allowing the easy flow of thousands, if not millions of passengers each year. (It's expected to eventually handle 4.25 million passengers annually.) Yet due to its location, this particular structure was all the more difficult. "The objective was how not to compete with the overwhelming emptiness of the site," says Asaf Mann of Amir Mann-Ami Shinar Architects, the firm responsible for designing the complex in partnership with Moshe Zur Architects. The airport is located just north of Eilat, a city that anchors Israel's southern border. In other words the airport is geographically closer to the borders of Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia than it is to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv to the north.

Designing a public space within the harsh climates of a desert tested the limits of what an architecture firm could do in accomplishing its task. "Due to the extreme climate, construction would, at times, begin after sunset, where we would use projectors to light the area," Mann explains. In fact, so difficult was the environment that the team had to mix the concrete on-site within massive iceboxes to properly allow the concrete to dry once applied to a surface.What makes this airport so different from most others in the world is not only its location but also the fact that much of the technical infrastructure was buried underground. This includes the area through which both public and private vehicles travel to drop off and park. Furthermore, baggage handling, security processes, and other technical operations are located dozens of feet below ground. This allows for much of the logistical work to be done underground, opening the ground level to provide uninterrupted views of the dramatic desert expanse all around.

Since much of an airport's design is implemented for the passengers' benefit, the architects needed to concoct a way to bring in natural sunlight without overheating the interiors from the desert sun. "Due to the heat, we did not use skylights in the design, which is a typical solution for allowing natural light into an airport terminal," says Mann. "Instead, we penetrated the space with two central patios, essentially bringing light to the building's core without overheating the space." What's more, the team raised the exterior cladding atop the building by roughly 15 to 20 centimeters to create a gap that allowed air to more freely move over the structure and cool it down. "We also added white aluminum panels to the exterior to help reflect light away from the building, further reducing the building temperature.


For those who fly into Israel's new Ilan and Asaf Ramon International Airport, they will see what the country hopes to accomplish in the 21st century: a forward-thinking approach to living within the confines of a harsh desert.


Article by Nick Mafi for Architectural Digest.

Images by Hufton & Crow.