Photo: Nigel Young_Foster + Partners

Architect Joon Paik (Paik Joon-beom), who designed the tres cool Spaceport America in New Mexico, the world’s first commercial space port.
Paik—whom left for the States when he was 15—has been active mostly in the UK, where he’s worked for Foster + Partners for 12 years.

The Foster + Partners and URS team has won an international competition to build the first private spaceport in the world - The New Mexico Spaceport Authority Building. The sinuous shape of the building in the landscape and its interior spaces seek to capture the drama and mystery of space flight itself, articulating the thrill of space travel for the first space tourists. Making a minimal impact on the environment, the scheme will be the first facility of its kind and a model for the future.

The Spaceport lies low within the desert-like landscape of the site in New Mexico and seen from the historic El Camino Real trail, the organic form of the terminal resembles a rise in the landscape. Using local materials and regional construction techniques, it is both sustainable and sensitive to its surroundings.

Organised into a highly efficient and rational plan, the Spaceport has been designed to relate to the dimensions of the spacecraft. There is also a careful balance between accessibility and privacy. The astronauts’ areas and visitor spaces are fully integrated with the rest of the building to convey the thrill of space travel. The more sensitive zones - such as the control room - are visible, but have limited access.

Visitors and astronauts enter the building via a deep channel cut into the landscape. The retaining walls form an exhibition space that documents the history of the region and its settlers, alongside a history of space exploration. The strong linear axis continues on a galleried level to the ‘superhangar’ - which houses the spacecraft and the simulation room – through to the terminal building.

Designed to have minimal embodied carbon and few additional energy requirements, the scheme has been designed to achieve the prestigious LEED Platinum accreditation. The low-lying form is dug into the landscape to exploit the thermal mass, which buffers the building from the extremes of the New Mexico climate as well as catching the westerly winds for ventilation. Natural light enters via skylights, with a glazed façade reserved for the terminal building, establishing a platform for the coveted views onto the runway.

Facts about Spaceport America

Site Area:

300,000 ft2
Gross Area: 93,453 ft2
Net Area Western zone: 4463 ft2 / 414 m2
Hangar: 55,000 ft2
Public viewing gallery: 5,079 ft2
Tenant: Virgin Galactic

Architectectural Lead Design:
Norman Foster
Grant Brooker
Antoinette Nassopoulos-Erickson
Joon Paik
Hiroyuki Sube
See Teck Yeo
Kristine Ngan

Architecture and Engineering: URS Corporation
Project Manager, Structural and MEP Engineer Architecture: SMPC Architects
Environmental Design/LEED: PHA Consult
Client: New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA)

Foster + Partners

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