Baku, Azerbaijan, burns in a hot landscape—literally. In recent years, swaths of land in the country’s capital have ignited in spontaneous fires due to shallow-lying natural gas and oil. Since the country gained its independence in 1991, the government has sought to elevate its design stature, illuminating HOK’s three Flame Towers with 39-story animations of flames, and building Zaha Hadid's Heydar Aliyev Center.

In June 2012, the government commissioned the Istanbul-based architecture studio Autoban to design the 645,835-square-foot interior of Baku’s new Heydar Aliyev Airport, by Arup.

The centerpiece of Autoban’s work is a series of 16 wooden cocoons, which house everything from a ticket kiosk to a coat check, and cafés to a children's playroom. With an aesthetic influenced by Arup's building design and the country's culture of hospitality, the cocoon's organic forms give a human scale to the spacious terminal and insert a village street-like organization that restores the micro-experience of wandering.

Autoban designed five types of cocoons, ranging from 305 square feet to 3,700 square feet in area, 20 feet to 34 feet in height, and 20 feet and 39 feet in diameter. One cocoon type contains two stories. The cocoon structures comprise a latticework of bent wooden beams slotted together. Some cocoon types leave the latticework structure exposed, allowing passerbys to see inside. Each open cocoons took two weeks for Ankara, Turkey–based contractor MAPA to construct. Laminated, diamond-shaped wooden panels that create a woven or scale-like appearance clad the other cocoon types; each enclosed cocoon took about three weeks to build. Some of the cladded forms taper into a point at the top while others are truncated on an angle.
Kerem Sanliman Autoban designed five types of cocoons, ranging from 305 square feet to 3,700 square feet in area, 20 feet to 34 feet in height, and 20 feet and 39 feet in diameter. One cocoon type contains two stories. The cocoon structures comprise a latticework of bent wooden beams slotted together. Some cocoon types leave the latticework structure exposed, allowing passerbys to see inside. Each open cocoons took two weeks for Ankara, Turkey–based contractor MAPA to construct. Laminated, diamond-shaped wooden panels that create a woven or scale-like appearance clad the other cocoon types; each enclosed cocoon took about three weeks to build. Some of the cladded forms taper into a point at the top while others are truncated on an angle.

The airport is the largest project to date for Autoban partners Seyhan Özdemir and Sefer Çaglar. “We’re interested in experiential design, in creating a balance between ornament and control,” Çaglar says. He and Özdemir culled and clarified patterns that appear throughout the terminal structure and finishes while celebrating them in profusion to make the space feel both comfortable and chic.

“To make the cocoons,” Özdemir says, “we played with natural materials and worked with craftsmen, but we also used CNC milling and laser-cutting.” The team used Rhinoceros and AutoCAD to design the cocoons and 3DS Max to place the cocoons into the overall interior design. They 3D printed one model of the open-framework cocoons in ABS M30-i, a biocompatible, production-grade thermoplastic, at a 40:610 or 0.065 scale, which the designers deemed best for evaluating the visual and functional aspects of the cocoons. Before construction began, Ankara, Turkey–based contractor Mapa built a full-size mock-up in Ankara.

The cocoon lattices are made from laminated layers of solid African ayous wood sourced in Turkey. The enclosed cocoons are clad with polished oak veneer on plywood. Living—artificially stunted—trees burst from the tile floor between the cocoons.
Kerem Sanliman The cocoon lattices are made from laminated layers of solid African ayous wood sourced in Turkey. The enclosed cocoons are clad with polished oak veneer on plywood. Living—artificially stunted—trees burst from the tile floor between the cocoons.

The next step was to produce the molds using CNC milling machines to curve and cut dovetail joints into each beam of the lattice structure. These were manufactured in Ankara under the supervision of the engineering faculty at the local Middle East Technical University and later assembled on site.

The diamond-shaped, 0.87-inch-thick cladding panels were laser-cut by Mapa. Layers of ayous wood with oak veneer on plywood were laminated and then formed over the CNC-milled wooden molds in a factory to achieve the desired curvature. The largest cocoon is clad with 2,050 panels in 40 different sizes, ranging from 5 inches by 7.5 inches, to 21 inches by 36 inches.

Busy with pattern, but clean pattern in neutral colors--in everything from carpeting and mesh ceiling or quartz floor tiles to the cocoons’ polished natural wood cladding--the terminal maintains a strong, minimal graphical quality. Even light and shadow contribute to the overlain filigree of patterns and reinforce the sense of a geometric forest canopy.

Çaglar says. “Things here are usually overdesigned. This airport represents a new Baku.”

Autoban embedded LEDs in black diamond-shaped niches. This diamond or triangle pattern was also repeated in everything from carpets made in Turkey to upholstery made for Kvadrat with triangles embossed in 3D fabric, and even napkins folded into triangles on café tables.
Kerem Sanliman Autoban embedded LEDs in black diamond-shaped niches. This diamond or triangle pattern was also repeated in everything from carpets made in Turkey to upholstery made for Kvadrat with triangles embossed in 3D fabric, and even napkins folded into triangles on café tables.

Autoban

The solid wood pieces were made by CNC, one by one, using drawings and dimensions provided by the Autoban team.
Autoban The solid wood pieces were made by CNC, one by one, using drawings and dimensions provided by the Autoban team.

The team used software to organize the pieces, but says the system is similar to that of a traditional roof-shingle system system. The wood surfaces were produced as several layers of diamond-shaped panels, overlapping each other, and producing the appearance of dimensionality.
Autoban The team used software to organize the pieces, but says the system is similar to that of a traditional roof-shingle system system. The wood surfaces were produced as several layers of diamond-shaped panels, overlapping each other, and producing the appearance of dimensionality.

To mount the panels, Autoban designed a custom connection that is mimics a traditional roof-joint system or basket weaving, but on a large scale.
Kerem Sanliman To mount the panels, Autoban designed a custom connection that is mimics a traditional roof-joint system or basket weaving, but on a large scale.

The lattice nests into the web of the curved steel beams that support the cocoons’ openings and edges. The cocoons’ interior architectures were designed by Autoban, including the spiral staircases in the two two-story cocoons. In total, Autoban produced 2,200 furniture pieces in Ankara, including lighting and seating elements. Each vendor has carte blanche to decorate their shop interior, including the wall color and furnishing choices.
Shonquis Moreno The lattice nests into the web of the curved steel beams that support the cocoons’ openings and edges. The cocoons’ interior architectures were designed by Autoban, including the spiral staircases in the two two-story cocoons. In total, Autoban produced 2,200 furniture pieces in Ankara, including lighting and seating elements. Each vendor has carte blanche to decorate their shop interior, including the wall color and furnishing choices.
Building systems—HVAC ducts, speakers, smoke detectors, and electrical channels—are tucked into the cavity between the cocoon’s lattice structure and cladding, while lighting elements are embedded flush in the wooden surface. In open-lattice cocoons, the systems are hidden underneath flooring finishes.
Shonquis Moreno Building systems—HVAC ducts, speakers, smoke detectors, and electrical channels—are tucked into the cavity between the cocoon’s lattice structure and cladding, while lighting elements are embedded flush in the wooden surface. In open-lattice cocoons, the systems are hidden underneath flooring finishes.

Autoban used the same ayous wood and scaled diamond pattern to cap the spandrel-beams at the end of each floor slab. The veneer is also double layers of laminated wood and polished in a matte finish for fire resistance. Unlike the cocoon panels, the veneer is mounted to a steel skeleton supported by with an upper framework of 40-centimeter-square box profiles covered by OSB panels.
Kerem Sanliman Autoban used the same ayous wood and scaled diamond pattern to cap the spandrel-beams at the end of each floor slab. The veneer is also double layers of laminated wood and polished in a matte finish for fire resistance. Unlike the cocoon panels, the veneer is mounted to a steel skeleton supported by with an upper framework of 40-centimeter-square box profiles covered by OSB panels.