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.
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.
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 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.”