2023 WAF Finalist Kansai International Airport

November 30, 2023 / Jack Kato

This week, members of our team headed to the 2023 World Architecture Festival in Singapore to present Kansai International Airport (KIX) as a finalist in the Future Projects Infrastructure category.  Populous’ lead architect and design manager for the project, Associate Principal Jack Kato, was extremely proud to have had the opportunity to present the designs of the re-imagined facility to the judges.

Here he writes more about his time at WAF: 

Located in Japan’s second largest metropolitan area, KIX is an important gateway to Osaka, Kyoto and Nara, on the western side of Japan.  

Considered one of the busiest and innovative airports in Asia, handling 30 million passengers a year, Populous was engaged to redefine KIX’s entire airport passenger experience ahead of future growth and major events.  

“KIX is currently undergoing a four-phased renovation while it is still in operation and next week will see phase two of the staged renovations open.”   

The design has enabled KIX to secure its long-term growth by making the best possible use of existing infrastructure and maximising commercial return in a cost-efficient way.  

Completed in 1994 and after 30 years of continual use it was ready for a makeover.  

The building was originally designed by Renzo Piano and to this day is considered an architectural icon with its characteristic aerofoil roofline and its elegant structure to encase the collection of spaces and functions within it. 

When it was originally designed, Terminal 1 spanned about 330,000m2 of floor area. The airport was intended to have a 50:50 split between domestic and international passengers. But in the last 10 years, the airport saw a substantial influx of international passengers, while its use as a domestic terminal dwindled.  

By 2016, the demographic make-up had changed to an 80:20 split. And as a result, the international areas had become severely undersized. Time was being spent in long queues and not enjoyed as part of the journey.   

With the airport growing steadily in demand, there were projections of its use going up to 40 million passengers within the next 10 years.  

Through a multi-phased construction plan spanning six years, Populous were able to overcome the many challenges associated with executing the terminal-wide renovation project without reducing the functional capacity of the terminal.  

“By relocating domestic and international areas we’ve managed to increase passenger capacity and the commercial floor area substantially.

The design of the interior spaces has incorporated a Japanese sense of place using cues inspired by nature to break away from the existing grey colour scheme.  

Engaging with Universal Design Principles has seen the renovation go above and beyond on accessibility and intuitive design elements for wayfinding cues.  

By working collaboratively with the facility operators, end users and key stakeholders, Populous has delivered an innovative airport design solution that is experiential and authentic and has a distinct spirit of place. Importantly, the design is built upon operational functionality, inter-modality, passenger convenience, accessibility and sustainability. 

Many opportunities and events have been planned for the future development of the region, including the World Expo in 2025 and I can’t wait to see KIX fully completed and in use for these huge global events.  

Thanks for reading and we look forward to sharing more with you on this project in the future.

Jack Kato


Meet the author

Jack Kato

Associate Principal, Design Manager, Lead Architect / Osaka


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