The new terminal at Azerbaijan’s Heydar Aliyev International Airport opened in September of this year in the country’s capital of Baku. The landmark terminal features interior architecture and experiential design by the globally acclaimed, Istanbul-based, Autoban studio. Bearing all the hallmarks of the multidisciplinary studio’s experimental, genre-defying approach, the contemporary interiors overturn the traditional airport conventions of cavernous space and impersonal experience.

Aeroporto BakuTaking inspiration from Azerbaijani hospitality, Autoban’s Red Dot award-winning design spans the entirety of the terminal’s passenger spaces, and includes striking custom-made wooden ‘cocoons’, made using American white oak veneers, that create a sense of welcome and discovery, and opportunities to either meet or retreat. This use of narrative and unconventional forms is typical of Autoban’s idiosyncratic approach. For more than a decade, the studio has developed a reputation for its imaginative, human approach to design, creating spaces that are firmly rooted in cultural, social and geographic narratives, yet offer unexpected and thought provoking experiences to their inhabitants and visitors. At Heydar Aliyev, their bespoke furnishings and lighting schemes upend airport typologies, opting for tactile natural materials such as wood, stone and textiles, gently and warmly lit. The cocoons - which vary in size and house an array of cafes, kiosks and other amenities - exist at the convergence of architecture and art, creating an inviting, intriguing landscape within the huge transportation hub that challenges expectations of the airport environment. Autoban have also conceived, designed and furnished four handsomely appointed ‘Salam Lounges’ exclusively for business class use, extending the best of their hospitality expertise to these premium passengers.

Aeroporto BakuThere are a total of 16 cocoons - 11 are solid in form and are clad in wooden panels while 5 have open frameworks. The cocoons have a variety of uses; there are two cafes, a champagne and caviar bar, a play area for children, a spa and beauty shop, a music and bookstore, and some provide amenities such as luggage storage. Additionally, the use of the cocoons is flexible and it is expected they will change over time as the airport terminal evolves. Made using American white oak veneers, they were manufactured in Ankara under the supervision of METU engineering professors and then assembled on site. American white oak lumber and veneers, finished in a dark stain, were also used in the production of bespoke table and chair sets for various lounge areas in the new terminal.

The biggest design elements are the series of custom-made wooden ‘cocoons’, which the designers view as micro-architectural elements. In terms of the quantity of American white oak veneer used in the project, 6,000 sq. and 4,000 sqm were used for the cocoon shells and spandrel beams respectively. The largest cocoon is clad with 2,050 panels in 40 different sizes. To make the cocoons, Autoban played with natural materials and worked with craftsmen, but also used CNC milling and laser-cutting. Using Rhinoceros and AutoCAD to design the cocoons and 3DS Max to place the cocoons into the overall interior design, Autoban printed a 3D model of the open-framework cocoons and MAPA built a full-size mock-up in Ankara to test their functionality. The terminal building’s conceptual architecture was designed by Arup, whilst Autoban was responsible for all of the interior architecture. The main contractor for the project was MAPA Construction Company whilst the interior joinery work was done by YOPA.

Project card
Project: Aeroporto Internazionale Heydar Aliyev
Client: Azerbaijan Airlines
Location: Baku, Azerbaijan
Main Architect: Arup
Interior Architect: Autoban
General Contractor: Società di Costruzioni MAPA
Interior joinery: YOPA
Project timespan: giugno 2012 - settembre 2014