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It’s rather surprising — and disappointing — that Guwahati, which is among the busiest airports in the country, has two X-ray machines, two baggage carousels, queues that are never-ending, and air-conditioners that rarely work. The move then to build its new terminal, that promises to have 64 check-in counters, 20 self check-in kiosks, and six arrival carousels, is a welcome change.
Especially because Guwahati is probably the only airport in the country that acts as a regional hub for the six states which surround Assam. And now, with the Centre’s Act East Policy, Guwahati—which also has its own Act East Policy Department—has become the business hub of Southeast Asia. In February, the Assam government began talks with Air Asia to start direct flight services between Guwahati and ASEAN countries. This comes close on the heels of government’s UDAN II scheme which encourages regional air connectivity. “Nothing is officially confirmed, but things are definitely in the pipeline,” a government source said.
WALK THROUGH AN INDOOR FOREST
It is in this context that the foundation stone of the New Integrated Terminal Building for Guwahati was laid by former Union Civil Aviation Minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in January. The terminal will be spread over 42 acres, and have a built-up area of 100,000 square meters.
The Airport Authority of India has got on board New Delhi-based Design International Forum to design the space. “We wanted to create an arrival experience that showcased the heritage of all seven states,” says Anand Sharma, Partner, Design Forum International. So, the moment the traveller deplanes, they are greeted at the Namaskar lounge, a double-height space with walls adorned by the arts and craft of the region.
To get to the baggage claim area, travellers will have to walk through a meandering “indoor rainforest”. Almost 90 feet high, the space is separated from a real outdoor thicket by a glass wall, adding to the user experience. “It just goes to show how well-integrated the entire design is with the context in which it is placed,” says Sharma. Once they navigate through the “forest”, the traveller will reach the baggage claim area, which features a craft village. “We will actually have local artisans working here, so the visitors can interact with them, and maybe even try their hand on one of the looms,” he says.
A TRULY GREEN AIRPORT
The airport, as a whole, is inspired by the Japanese concept of Origami. “You will find origami influences through the airport, whether it be in the signage, terminal roof, column cladding or the facade treatment,” Sharma says. The origami aluminium panels in the baggage claim area take from the hilly terrain of the region.
Another influence is the Greek god Icarus, which will influence the sculptural centerpiece of the departure terminal. The landscape will also have undulating mounds, mimicking the tea gardens of Assam. “We are also trying to be as sustainable as possible — photovoltaic panels line the outdoor car park, and will account for 500 KW of solar power energy,” he says. The airport will be conforming to 4-Star GRIHA rating parameters. “We will even have facilities to accumulate rainwater,” he says. The water, thus collected, will be used to irrigate the surrounding landscape.
The new terminal, for which construction started last month, is slated to open in about 36 months, if all goes according to plan. The existing structure, that recently got an extension, currently handles approximately 3.8 million passengers annually, and has only one international airline — Bhutan’s Druk Air — offering flights from Paro to Bangkok via Guwahati.