Feature, Transport

The airport with 50,000 downlights

The main terminal building at Istanbul New Airport – seen here in an architect’s computer render – is set over two levels, with more than 10,000 downlights, all angled.

THE SHEER SIZE and complexity of the new Istanbul airport, both architecturally and in terms of its lighting design, was set out at LuxLive by Jonathan Rush, partner at Hoare Lea.

The £9 billion (€10.3 billion, US$11.4 billion) airport – which began its phased opening last month – is set to be the world’s largest when fully operational. Hoare Lea has been instrumental in a lighting scheme influenced by the symbols and imagery of Istanbul’s mosques as well as the creative use of sunlight and daylight design, Rush highlighted.

The main terminal building – designed by an architectural team including Grimshaw, Nordic Office of Architecture and Haptic Architects – is almost 12km wide, Rush points out. ‘They reckon it is going to be bigger than Manhattan. It is a really, really big project and a really big airport.’

Employees of the main contractor, iGA, put the finishing touches to the interiors of one of the concourses, where extra-long travelators take passengers to their gates.

From a lighting perspective, the project is also massive. From beginning work in November 2014 to handing over to local architects in December 2016, more than 260 drawings were completed, 60 documents and more than 360 calculations. ‘We lost count on 50,000 downlights, and that does not include the kilometres and kilometres of linear lighting embedded in the space,’ said Rush.

In terms of design, the airport features skylights and an overarching vaulted ceiling in geometric patterns. ‘The main terminal building works around the idea of this one unifying structure of the ceiling, which sits over the top of it, over this colossal space, with the piers to one side,’ explained Rush.

‘A lot of the motifs that are seen in Istanbul’s mosques – especially the Süleymaniye Mosque – are taken through into the structure itself. We’ve got these large gold oculus forms, these rings. The way the light penetrates as well was a really important part of it,’ he said.

Skylight-topped columns mix daylight and artificial lighting to dramatic effect.

The design was ‘a celebration of light and sunlight’, Rush said. ‘We looked at it in terms of sun patterns and how sun manoeuvred through the space. Sun is part and parcel of the design, as it is part and parcel of that area of the country.

‘We’ve done some beautiful ring patterns that move through during the day. And we ended up getting the crescent that is on the Turkish flag, too. And then in terms of artificial and feature illumination, we used those patterns that you see in the interior of mosques and how we could break them down into a number of motifs: so, the illuminated up-lit vaults, the rings, the oculus form, and how they all combined together to create real space and depth in this one unifying ceiling,’ he added.

The scheme needed to provide 200 lux across the floor but, again, on a massive scale. The central columns in the space alone are 36m apart, stretching to 54m in place, Rush highlighted.

iGA staff examine the visibility of the information screens. The check-in desk areas will be illuminated with linear LED elements embedded in the ceiling.

‘That is absolutely colossal. At 30m high as well we did not just want to floodlight this, we wanted to use precise and good angleable spotlights to create a human scale to it in this vast, vast space.’

The man terminal building is set over two levels, with more than 10,000 downlights, all angled and pointing. ‘The downlighting was the functional side of it. But we also wanted to create the feature side of it. So we embedded 10m-diameter ring forms in the centre, really colossal ring forms in the open skylights to create some of the aesthetic. And uplighting to the vaults to really create the volume,’ said Rush.

‘It was a really, really big challenge, a really big thing, but also a really spectacular form to fill,’ he added.

The airport was planned as the largest in the world with a 150 million annual passenger capacity in its last planned expansion stage, while remaining upgradable to handle 200 million annual passengers if required in the future.

It is the third international airport to be built in Istanbul after Atatürk Airport and Sabiha Gökçen Airport, and is planned to become the main international airport serving Istanbul. Atatürk Airport will be closed down for scheduled passenger flights once the new airport is fully operational.


  • Airport lighting will be one of the sessions in the Lighting for Transport and Infrastructure conference, one of the tracks taking at LuxLive 2019 on Wednesday 13 November and Thursday 14 November 2019. Entry is free if you pre-register – more information HERE.


All pictures courtesy iGA. Copyright 2018.