Six runways are planned for the new Mexico City airport, shown in a rendering.As airports go, Mexico City's current two-runway Benito Juarez Airport is overcrowded, outdated and sorely lacking in creature comforts.

Fast forward to Mexico City's airport of the future.

When completed in 2022, the capital city's new international airport will be capable of eventually handling up to 120 million passengers a year, quadruple the capacity of the current facility.

It also will be energy-efficient, will treat and recycle its own water and will comprise one single, giant structure wrapped in a unique "skin" to let in natural light and air.

In his annual state-of-the-union address on Sept. 2, President Enrique Pena Nieto described the $9.2 billion project, currently in the planning stages, as Mexico's largest infrastructure project in recent years and called the airport "Mexico's gateway to the world that will symbolize modern Mexico, and it will have a great dose of Mexican symbolism that will be a door into Mexico."

The president said a new airport is needed to keep pace with the growing demand of air travel and also to drive further development.

"The current saturation restricts communications within the country, limits Mexico's connectivity to the world, restrains trade and investment and creates delays for users," Pena Nieto said.

Mexico had tried in 2001 under then-President Vicente Fox to appropriate land from a group of farmers on the outskirts of Mexico City to build a new airport.

That did not sit well with the farmers from the town of San Salvador Atenco, who staged violent clashes with government officials, and the plan was dropped.

Mexico's government will finance the first stage of the new facility and will issue bonds to finance later stages.

British architect Norman Foster and Mexico's Fernando Romero were selected as the design team for the new airport.

Foster designed Beijing's Terminal 3, and Romero, son-in-law of Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim, designed the Soumaya Museum in Mexico City.

The new airport will feature a unique skin to let in natural light and air.The airy, lightweight, membrane-roofed terminal is designed in the form of a giant X, enclosing the entire terminal, walls and roof in a single flowing form.

Designed to be the world's most sustainable airport, the single terminal will use less materials and energy than a cluster of warehouse-like terminals, according to the architects.

The large-span structure will harness solar energy, collect rainwater, provide shading and offer outside views from all points inside the terminal.

"The design ensures short walking distances and few level changes," Foster said. "It's easy to navigate, and passengers will not have to use internal trains or underground tunnels."

In the original plan, the government wanted two separate terminals, but the designers were able to condense it all into one large space.

Foster said the airport design is the first of its kind in the world. "It doesn't have a conventional roof, vertical walls or columns."

The lightweight glass-and-steel structure and soaring, vaulted roof are designed for Mexico City's temperate, dry climate.

Fresh air will fill the terminal most of the year, requiring little additional heating or cooling.

The monumental scale of the single terminal was inspired by large doses of Mexican symbolism and architecture, according to Romero.

As an example, Romero pointed out the airport will honor the Mexican flag's coat of arms, which has an eagle devouring a snake on top of a cactus and is a reference to Tenochtitlan, the pre-Columbian city on which the capital is built.

"The entrance to the terminal will have a garden of cacti and other elements to symbolizing the snake and the eagle's wings," Romero said.

The design team said it is hopeful that the airport will inspire other cities as they overhaul outdated airports.

Construction is slated to begin next year.


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