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Architect defends vision for Bangkok Airport, says it's not a fire hazard

Bangkok

BANGKOK'S main airport is planning to add a US$1.3 billion terminal with extensive wooden cladding and a forested landscape, spurring concern about fire risk. Its designer says there's no need to worry.

Tropical forests inspired the blueprint for the building and the aim is to give travellers a feeling of Thailand's uniqueness, 52-year-old architect Duangrit Bunnag said in an interview. He rejected concerns from the Engineering Institute of Thailand that the structure could be a fire hazard.

"Airports tend to have similar features - they're white, cold and metallic," Mr Duangrit said. "I wanted a design that immediately gives travellers the feeling they've arrived in Thailand. It will be a metal structure covered with wood. Different treatments can be applied to the timber to ensure fire resistance."

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Airports of Thailand Pcl, the biggest Asian airport operator by market capitalisation, announced last month that it was awarding the design contract to a joint bid by Duangrit Bunnag Architect Ltd and Japan's Nikken Sekkei Ltd.

The state-controlled firm expects to boost annual passenger capacity by 30 million by building a second terminal at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi international airport. Construction is due to start next year and finish by 2021.

A tourism boom is straining the country's infrastructure, putting pressure on officials to tackle bottlenecks. Foreign arrivals could hit 40 million next year - equivalent to more than half the population.

Mr Duangrit's design features sweeping arches and giant columns clad in wood. He also proposed an enclosed tropical-forest landscape spanning about 16,000 square metres between two buildings of the terminal. Passengers would be able to see but not enter the landscape, a symbol for ecological protection.

"The difficulty in designing the terminal is how to make it memorable to travellers from around the world," Mr Duangrit said. "How do I make it look different from all the other airports?" BLOOMBERG