What to do with London's increasingly-cramped Heathrow Airport? While plans have previously centered around building a new runway, London mayor Boris Johnson favors abandoning the site altogether, and building a new airport on an artificial island in the Thames Estuary. Should this ambitious plan come to pass, it would leave the original Heathrow site obsolete, presenting an opportunity for redevelopment. To this end, the mayor's office has revealed three proposals for transforming the airport into a new town dubbed Heathrow City.

The proposals were commissioned by Transport for London, at the mayor's behest, and will be available for public viewing at the New London Architecture galleries in central London until August 9. At this stage, they appear more a jumping-off point rather than finished plans and warrant all due skepticism.

Romance of the Sky

Hawkins\Brown produced the most striking, and perhaps the most unrealistic of the three proposals. Its Romance of the Sky proposal features an airship port, a so-called "factory of homes" in which the production of prefabricated houses would be streamlined to help meet London's growing housing needs, and the widespread use of remotely controlled and unmanned drones as an alternative means of delivering parcels.

"A big site like Heathrow needs big ideas," said Darryl Chen, Partner at Hawkins\Brown. "Heathrow City should be a platform for innovation on a massive scale. We want to capture the same pioneering spirit and romance that characterized Heathrow's first airborne adventures. We hope our vision inspires other new ideas about Heathrow's and London's future."

Transforming City

Rick Mather Architects' proposal involves making use of Heathrow's existing infrastructure. The airport's runways would kept and used to connect 10 areas, each containing a cluster of retail, education, residential, and community spaces. A manufacturing hub would be built and could specialize in housing production, and the development of environmentally-friendly products including biofuels.

"Our proposal 'The Transforming City' explores the natural emergence of a vibrant and integrated new hub city from the existing airport structure, embedded in its setting and wider landscape, singular and distinctive, at one with its immediate setting and locality, yet fully tuned for regional, national and international opportunity," said Gavin Miller, partner at Rick Mather Architects.

Liveable Landscape

The Liveable Landscape proposal, by Maccreanor Lavington, echoes Rick Mather Architects' view that the existing infrastructure of Heathrow Airport should be maintained and built upon, and calls for the airport to become host to a technology campus, new housing and a retail hub and civic center.

"Heathrow has outgrown its location," said Gerrard Maccreanor, Director of Maccreanor Lavington. "If London is to maximize its influence from coast to coast then the airport should move and this site should be the future catalyst."

Mayor Johnson's office says that the redevelopment of Heathrow Airport into Heathrow City could provide 90,000 jobs and 80,000 new homes in West London, and generate up to £7.5 billion (around US$12.7 billion) for the UK economy.

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