Innovation Station – Kansai International Airport

Innovation Station – Kansai International Airport

19th September 2017

A while ago we published a fascinating article on the world’s tallest building to date following a trip to Dubai by one of our team members.  We found the article so interesting that we decided to look for some more tall or unusual buildings to entertain our readers.  Thus we now include a regular Innovation Station article on our blogroll for our readers to enjoy.  While most of us probably work on more mundane projects, it’s always fun (to say nothing of an educational experience) to take a look at some of the cutting edge projects around the world.

Today, we’re going to take a look at Kansai International Airport in Osaka Bay, Japan.  The airport has been constructed on an artificial island in the middle of the Osaka Bay and serves as an international hub for All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines and Nippon Cargo Airlines, as well as Japan’s first international low cost airline, Peach.  Kansai (or KIX, as it is also known) is the 3rd busiest airport in Japan, with 25.2 million passengers passing through it in the last year alone.  It was opened in 1994 and was designed by Italian architect, Renzo Piano (who also designed The Shard, the subject of our last Innovation Station article).

Kansai was built to relieve overcrowding at Osaka International Airport (which now handles domestic flights only) and was initially planned to be located near Kobe, a city which refused the plan.  The airport was eventually planned for Osaka Bay but the builders first needed to create an artificial island on which to build it.  The water depth is 18m which covers a 20m layer of Holocene clay which holds 70% water which was a challenge for engineers who also had to take into consideration the high risk of earthquakes and typhoons with storm surges of up to 3m.  A million sand drains were built into the underlying clay to remove the water and solidify the clay.

A seawall was then constructed using rock and 48,000 tetrapods and then a 30m layer of earth was laid inside the sea wall to create the artificial island.  The island was predicted to sink nearly 6 m as the weight of construction material compressed it into the seabed but this was optimistic, with the island sinking 8.2m in total.  This became the most expensive civil works project in modern history, involving twenty years of planning, three years of construction and $15 billion investment.  However, the creation of the artificial island has paved the way for further successful artificial islands which seem to be on the increase.    To compensate for the sinking, adjustable columns were designed to support the terminal building which opened in 1994. 

The project was severely tested by the elements the following year when, on 17th January, 199, Japan was struck by the Kobe earthquake whose epicentre was a mere 20km from KIX.  Tragically, a massive 6,434 people lost their lives as a result of the earthquake, though Kansai International Airport emerged undamaged, with even the glass in the windows intact.