Complex and challenging.That’s the kind of problem that the proposal for a brand new international airport terminal—one that could be bracketed alongside the best in the world—posed to its creators. It was a problem that needed to be approached with imagination, creativity and empathy. Here then, is the story of how one of India’s most complex brownfield projects was brought to life.

Flashback to 2007. Project T2 is poised to take off. It’s a highly sensitive project – from a commercial, political and security point of view. Like the scope of the project, the challenges too are epic. One: this massive piece of infrastructure has to come up in the very heart of Mumbai – where every square inch of space is a luxury. Two: while it’s coming up, the project cannot disrupt either the regular operations of an already-bustling airport or the steady flow of traffic on the Western Express highway. Three: time is limited.

Unique challenges call for unique ideas

The situation calls for out-of-the-box thinking. And the core project team rises to the occasion. To combat the space issue, it is decided that T2 will be a vertical terminal - towering all the way up to four storeys. Likewise, to ensure the smooth flow of traffic, the decision to construct a 3.3 km long, 6-lane elevated corridor -- connecting the airport to the Western Express highway -- is taken.

With the bigger picture in place, it’s time to get into the details.

In operation mode: one phase at a time

What’s the first rule of handling a large, complex problem? Break it down into smaller, more manageable units. The makers of T2 decide to go with this tried-and-tested approach. First up, they draw up a master-phasing plan --- one that looks at ramps, car park facilities, a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji, a police station, AAI offices and overhead tanks. Then they tackle each phase individually.

Phase 1 of development begins on the southwest pier -- by dismantling a part of the existing T2 A. This reduces the number of operational contact stands. To balance this, the team builds gate expansions through which 3 new contact stands are added on the eastern side of the existing terminal. To relocate the facilities from the dismantled terminal, they further add a mezzanine floor to the existing international terminals T2 B and C, while the taxiway is reoriented to accommodate the southwest pier of the new terminal. The master plan reveals that a major part of T2 is to be located in the existing car park area. So a temporary car park is put up on the east side of the terminal – made entirely out of steel.

Work then commences on the southwest section of the new integrated terminal. A new police station and a temple are built outside the airport perimeter to accommodate the services hub in the north. The underground tanks in the newly constructed southwest pier are used as interim tanks for domestic and fire services for T2 B & C terminals. The entire sewage network is also diverted to the new sewage sumps constructed in the future apron area on the east side of the site.

The final hurdles

The constant stream of traffic from east to west through ramps B and C is delaying the final leg of Phase 2 work. IIT Mumbai comes to the rescue with their proposal for a reverse ramp on the eastern side. This allows commuters to enter and exit using the same side of the existing terminal -- freeing up the entire western side. Once Phase 2 is completed, the facilities of the old terminal are slowly shifted to the new one.

The remainder of the T2 Project---essentially three buildings on the east side with a total built-up area of 43,732 sq. metres, 14 linked bridges and the entire east side apron measuring 3.3 lakh sq. metres---is completed by removing the old facilities from the eastern side.

The roving headquarters

The severe space constraint also means that the core team has to operate without a proper office set-up. In fact, over the next six years, their office is going to be relocated several times. But still, they manage beautifully.

Today the T2 stands complete – a marvel of modern-day engineering. This mammoth, four-storey terminal draws its inspiration from traditional Indian pavilions. All the modular concourses are placed below a grand central processing podium, covered by one of the world’s largest roofs – measuring an astonishing 70,000 sq. metres. All the concourses radiate from a central processing area, allowing them to swing between domestic and international services. The close proximity between the construction site and the existing terminal -- which remained operational during construction -- resulted in the elongated X-shape. A unique shape, for what is surely a unique structure – built under truly unique circumstances.

Ranjith Kumar is an architect based in Auroville, he has completed his bachelors from Anna University. His modus operandi depicts the silver bullet ideology. Founder of www.metamelon.com, he finds peace in ''manifestation of thoughts''.

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    Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of UltraTech Cement.

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