Studio Pacific Architecture met the brief for the new Nelson Airport Terminal in New Zealand by designing a building that reflected the uniqueness of the region, connected to the landscape, and made extensive use of local materials.

Opened in 2019, the Nelson Airport Terminal is a large-span 5300-square-metre timber building overlooking the runway, with a stunning backdrop of Tasman Bay and the Western Ranges. The new terminal was built to address the inadequacies of the existing 1975 building that did not meet compliance requirements or function efficiently to handle the ever-increasing passengers travelling through Nelson.

The architects chose natural ventilation and a mass timber structure coupled with a resilient seismic structural solution as their strategy to deliver an environmentally sustainable design. To achieve natural ventilation, the building's plan, height, and roof form are designed to maximise air movement and utilise the air’s buoyancy when heated to rise up to high-level openings. Fresh air enters the building through low-level windows and rises – when heated – to the carefully articulated roof, where it is released through the glazed louvres of the clerestory windows.

Chevron-shaped external canopies along the north façade act as large chambers discharging warm air drawn in from the solar chimneys below, while also providing solar shading to the interior and reducing the extent of glazing to the façade. The simplicity of the overall plan contrasts with the highly complex and visually striking roof.

The profile of the building along its entire length references the surrounding mountain ranges. Internally, the timber structure forming the roof captivates with natural warmth, texture and scale. Efficiently combining folded plates and beams, the building has the structural resilience to enhance long term durability.

The use of timber is integral to the design brief, reinforcing the materiality and its connection and relevance to the surrounding forestry, from which it has been sourced. The repetitive building module achieves a large open footprint, allowing for flexible internal planning with minimal columns. Internal ‘pods’ float beneath the roof and house operational requirements, retail, and food and beverage offerings.

Twice the size of the previous building, the new terminal offers expanded seating areas, airline lounges, conference rooms and retail spaces, and is equipped to cater for growth predictions in excess of the current 1 million passengers passing through the airport annually, says Studio Pacific Architecture.

Photographs: Jason Mann Photography