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Cebu’s resort-themed airport is almost complete

Louie Ferrer, president of Megawide GMR Cebu Airport Corporation, thought it would be great pick up line. 

Attempting to impress a gorgeous Celine Schrenk at last year’s Miss Universe Pageant in Manila, he asked what she thought of ‘glulam’ wood, the timber material from her native Austria used to form the wavy barrel roof-supporting structure for the Mactan Cebu International Airport  (MCIA), the ambitious resort-themed airport  currently being built in the Visayas island.

Miss Austria, as it turned out, was modestly familiar with one of Austria’s prime industrial exports,  glulam (glued laminated timber), which is  a structural timber product comprising layers of dimensioned timber bonded together with durable, moisture-resistant structural adhesives. Ferrer proceeded to be schooled on the  high strength and stiffness of laminated glulam timbers which enable beams and arches to span large distances without intermediate columns, allowing more design flexibility than with traditional timber construction. “The size is limited only by transportation and handling constraints,” Miss Schrenk explained to the Megawide-GMR executive.

To cap off Ferrer’s education, Miss Austria congratulated him for choosing glulam wood as a prime material in building the airport. The material, she said, is just right for the Philippines’ humid and unpredictable monsoon climate “because it is tough, resilient and environmentally-sustainable.”

“I got picked up instead,” Ferrer ruefully said. 

Iconic structure

Leading an MCIA tour for Manila media last week, Ferrer brushed off any embarrassment from the  Miss Austria incident. Instead, he displayed pride for the  iconic structure that will pay homage to the rich culture and island heritage of the province when it opens this June.

The Terminal 2 of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, touted as the world’s first resort airport, is poised to become a lifestyle destination in itself, offering tourists their first taste of Cebu as soon as they set foot at the country’s second-busiest air gateway.

Lifestyle destination. MCIA’s Terminal 2 will offer tourists their first taste of Cebu as soon as they set foot at the country’s second-busiest air gateway.
“We create the first and last impressions visitors make of Cebu and the rest of the country and thus we want to create a worthy impression for everyone,” Ferrer explained. Not only will the new terminal look distinctly Filipino, it will also be a complete experience of Filipino hospitality the moment you set foot here.”

 “This airport is more than a transfer point, we are making it a vital part of the Cebu experience,” Ferrer added.

GMCAC is the consortium managing the terminal operations and other related areas of the Mactan-Cebu Airport under a public-private partnership with the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority. It bagged the P14.4 billion contract for the MCIA passenger terminal building in 2014. Once completed, the new Terminal 2 will cater to international flights while the old terminal will be retrofitted to cater to domestic ones.

World-class designers

Designed for an annual capacity of 4.5 million passengers, the MCIA has been bursting at the seams with 7 million yearly arrivals since 2013. It is only logical that a new terminal be constructed, one that would represent in a more contemporary way Cebu’s tropical resort economy and the rich tradition of craftsmanship.

Hong Kong-based design firm Integrated Design Associates Ltd. (IDA) and airport planning consultant Ove Arup and Partners collaborated with local architect-of-record Albert Yu of Asya Design and three other Filipino design experts, interior designer Budji Layug, architect Royal Pineda, and Cebuano furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue. 

The MCIA Terminal 2 is rising on a 5-hectare lot south of the existing terminal and control tower, in what was part of the apron of the old US airbase that stood there until 1971. (Part of this base is still operated by the Philippine Air Force, which uses Mactan as its largest air base outside Manila).

Projected to accommodate 4 million international passengers annually upon opening in 2018, Terminal 2 can be expanded to accommodate the 8 million international travelers expected in the next ten years. The proposed terminal’s modular design and linear configuration make this possible.

Cebu experience

The soaring parabolic arches and floating glulam beams at the check-in area on the second level evoke rich history of local expertise in boat building, woodworking, and rattan weaving. At the duty-free area at the departure level, the use of floating glulam rafters evokes memories of coconut leaf fronds swaying in the beaches.

Terminal 2’s curvaceous roof, supported by large Y-shaped pillars, has been likened to an inverted local boat’s hull, the waves of the sea, and the woven baskets and mats (’banig’) that Cebu has produced for centuries. 

Ten of these wave-shaped roofs form parallel lines running the length of Terminal 2. The billowing height evokes an atmosphere of “lightness” and “airiness” that will greet travelers as they disembark and approach the departure area. The gable curtain walls allow impressive lookouts over aircraft parked on the apron, and relaxing views of the tropical landscaped amenity outside, which will be planted next to the building’s vehicular access side.

The departure area on the upper floor is housed under the central arched roofs and can be accessed from the main road via a vehicular ramp. These are the tallest of the terminal’s curved roofs, reaching up 15 meters by 30 meters wide, and spanning up to 210 meters from curbside to the farthest gate. 

All of the roof’s ridges have skylights allowing natural light to filter diagonally across the expansive space. Check-in counters, kiosks, and in-line baggage conveyors span the sides of the departure hallway, giving a sense of horizontal linearity and directionality familiar to frequent air travelers.

Craftsmanship. The glulam ceiling composition evokes the surrounding Visayas islands’  legacy of craftsmanship in wood and rattan. The timber’s warm colors, ranging from blonde ash to coffee-brown mahogany, offset the cold efficiency of the terminal.
The most distinctive local design intervention can be found in the ceilings of the departure area. Here, a system of free-standing Y-shaped parabolic pillars (reminiscent of mid-19th century iron-and-glass “palaces of industry” in Paris and London), x-braced rafters, and parallel “floating” braced beams, all made of glulam, will dominate sightlines and perspectives. 

The ceiling composition is the closest visual metaphor for the surrounding islands’ rich legacy of craftsmanship in wood and rattan. The glulam’s warm colors, ranging from blonde ash to coffee-brown mahogany, offset the cold efficiency of the terminal and give it a rustic flair

Largest order of “glulam” wood

An earlier statement by Rubner Holzbau, a engineered timber construction firm in Europe, reported that  “a total of 4,500 m³ of glulam timber was used and installed under the Holzbau’s supervision.

 “This project is the largest order that has ever been received for a structure made of glulam in the entire company history of Rubner Holzbau in Ober-Grafendorf,” the statement said..

Soaring passenger arrivals

For this year, the Mactan-Cebu International Airport expects passenger arrivals—both local and foreign—to hit 10 million, up 12 percent from last year’s 8.93 million.

This growth may be attributed to the new routes being opened. The Mactan-Cebu Airport is currently serving a total of 16 international destinations, 27 domestic destinations with 19 partner airline carriers.

In the next two years, GMCAC is targeting new routes connecting Cebu to Australia, Europe and other Asean countries, likewise expanding connections to China, Japan and South Korea.

As more international and domestic destinations open, GMCAC chief executive adviser Andrew Harrison said that increasing the airport’s capacity was the next crucial step.

“We need proper infrastructure so that we can accommodate more airlines and more flights. Route development is essential to an airport; the more flights we have, the more passengers will pass through our gates,” Harrison said.

The construction of the MCIA Terminal 2, which is slated to open on June 2018, will increase passenger capacity to 12.5 million from 4.5 million. 

Topics: Louie Ferrer , , Megawide GMR Cebu Airport Corporation , Celine Schrenk , Integrated Design Associates Ltd.
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