Israel's Ilan and Asaf Ramon International Airport will service the Red Sea resort city of Eilat and surrounding region. Commissioned by the Israel Airport Authority (IAA), the project was handled from A to Z by design manager, Architect Amir Mann. Located in Timna, it is Israel's first civil airport built from scratch (greenfield).
Spread across 1,250 acres, the airport has a minimalist and futuristic design in the middle of the Negev Desert. The architects served as project design managers, leading more than 45 consulting firms, nearly all local Israeli engineers, alongside ARUP London's aviation team. Situated just 18 km north of Eilat, the airport will become a major game changer for local and international tourism to Israel, Jordan and Egypt's Sinai Desert.
The airport has significant achievements: it is fully constructed and operational within the budget, funded for less than half of similar projects worldwide; on schedule for opening day within an exceptionally tight timeframe; a greenfield project without any existing infrastructure, and included the creation and implementation of cutting edge navigation, landing, and baggage handling systems, runways, and operational buildings - while maintaining the existing natural surroundings. The entire airport is unified under a unique holistic design language that frames the stunning scenery of the Negev Desert mountain-scape.
The opening of the Ilan and Asaf Ramon International Airport will coincide with the closing of the existing J. Hozman Eilat Airport currently located in the middle of the city of Eilat. The old airport was dividing and disrupting the city’s development. With its annulment, the city's urban fabric will be able to unite, surfacing potential opportunities and regeneration. The new airport will serve as the new southern gate to Israel and is expected to host 2.25 million passengers per year, with the figure bound to grow to an estimated 4.25 million passengers per year.
For the project, the architects developed a unique and minimal design language influenced by the futuristic world of aviation. The decision of the IAA to appoint the architects as design managers responsible for budget, program, and planning schedule, allowed for the architects to implement the design across the entire airport - from the various buildings to each individual check-in counter, thus unifying the airport on all its parts into a holistic singular entity within the dramatic emptiness of its surroundings. This is evident from a general concept of carved geometries and through a limited choice of materials used to clad the forms.
"In designing the airport, we learned from the desert scenery. It required a vision of the most suitable design solution that responds to the existing landscape and climate. Our objective was how not to compete with the overwhelming emptiness of the site, while creating a place that welcomes passengers through the departure and arrival processes, reflecting through that experience the uniqueness of the desert environment, as a functioning international southern gate to Israel," said Project Design Manager, Amir Mann.
The mushroom-like rock formations found in Israel's National Timna Park served as inspiration for the initial geometry of the Passenger Terminal Building as a self-shading volume. Just as the rocks are shaped by the natural movements of wind and water, the terminal's opaque volume was carved by the natural movements of the passenger traffic: at the entrances and exits, at the divisions between arrivals and departures, and between the check-in and boarding gate halls. At every such spaces, glass curtain walls were inserted, surrounding patios that introduce the natural desert landscaping into the building. These serve as light wells allowing natural light into the depths of the terminal, instead of the commonly used skylights, impossible within such climate conditions.
The terminal's envelope consists of a steel and concrete skeleton structure, clad to the exterior with insulating aluminum triangular panels, continuous from wall to roof that create a single mass. The pristine white panels reflect the light rays and the UV waves and thus help in further reducing the skin's temperature. Towards the interior, the building's volume is hollowed out and the envelope is clad in a contrasting bamboo-wood, uniting the ceiling and walls over one continuous space.
The terminal building's minimalist interior scheme is based on a tightly organized high-ceilinged hall with low-level furniture and pavilions acting as dividers. Its entire infrastructure including baggage handling, security processes, and other technical operations and systems are all hidden on a lower level. This allows for the roof to be free of any technical equipment as a fifth façade viewed from the airplane window, and for all passenger processes to be efficiently on a single level. The result being a Miesian-like terminal hall where all passenger traffic is viewable, separated only by the desert patios. The terminal opens at the boarding gate area with a 20-m high glass curtain wall towards the theatre of aviation with the desert view as a backdrop.
The landscape design drew inspiration from the existing river delta fan created by the mountain flooding into the desert valley. Thus, the delicately winding paths of the parking lot and the landscape development follow the shape of the natural spill from the streams. As part of the aspiration to preserve and integrate the landscape with the environment, and with the intention of maximizing use of existing local materials, all the sand and rock infrastructure excavated at the site was used as a filler for the construction of the runways, the airplane hardstands, and the roads. To this end, a grinding factory was set up to crush the pebbles into bedding materials. The material collected during digging was also used to finally cover the ground upon completion of construction to seamlessly integrate the landscape development with the natural surroundings. In addition, local plant seeds were harvested and preserved at the site, grown and incubated in greenhouses during the years of construction, and finally returned to their original location, to serve as the desert vegetation lining the airport's landscape.
Israel Airports Authority (IAA)
Yaacov Ganot, Directing Manager
Rafi Elbaz, Deputy Director General of Engineering & Planning Division
Design and Planning Management:
Amir Mann - Moshe Zur - Ami Shinar - Orna Zur Architects
Amir Mann, Architect
Eng. Ron Havatzelet
ARUP London with Amir Mann-Ami Shinar Architects and Planners
Over 45 local Israeli Engineering Firms