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First-class construction: How BIM data brought Helsinki Airport into the future

Helsinki Airport best Tekla Structural BIM project 2022

When Finland’s aviation authority invested in revamping the capital city’s airport, BIM data set the course for every aspect of the project. It’s an example of 3D-based collaboration for the global construction industry to follow.

Helsinki Airport is regarded as one of Europe’s finest

Opened in 1952, the airport has won dozens of awards over the years for its design, passenger experience and cleanliness. Some 350 daily departures connect Helsinki to the world, with flights to more than 130 destinations in Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East. Helsinki Airport is also the home base of Finland’s flag-carrying airline Finnair.
The airport’s passenger numbers tell a clear story about its popularity. In 2009 some 12.6 million travelers passed through Helsinki Airport. A decade later, the number had swelled to almost 22 million. This additional traffic has been driven by Helsinki positioning itself as Northern Europe’s leading transfer hub, chiefly for flights to and from Asia.
Keen to meet this growing demand among both passengers and airline customers – without compromising on the airport’s reputation for quality – Finland’s national airport company Finavia has been implementing a one-billion-euro investment program since 2013. This included a bold decision to introduce a ‘one-roof concept’ that expands and centralizes all the airport’s operations into a single terminal. Studies showed this to be the best way to ensure smooth traveling and efficient access to services.

In addition to increasing the airport’s floorspace by 103,000 m2 (+45%), Finavia has also expanded the air-side aprons by 450,000 m2 and has built 16 new parking spaces for wide-body aircraft. The airport’s car-parking capacity has been expanded too.

3D data from start to finish

The terminal expansion part of the investment program was kicked off in 2017, with Building Information Modeling at the heart of the four-year project. 

The work was overseen by a consortium of partners named the T2 Alliance, comprising Finavia Corporation, developer SRV Rakennus, engineering-consultancy Ramboll, and the architecture firms ALA Architects and HKP Architects.

Finavia is a pioneer in using BIM, having been working with 3D models since 2007. As a developer and a building owner, Finavia uses BIM data both for alterations and day-to-day facilities management. Thanks to this, the T2 Alliance had a number of high-quality BIM models from the original construction project available at the start of the project to get the work kicked off. 

Finavia Design Manager Kari Ristolainen explains how 3D technology played a  fundamental role throughout the entire airport expansion:

“This was a large-scale and complex project. Construction took place as the airport was still in use, so we had to ensure the functionality and safety of the site at all times. The architecture is also very demanding, with many interfaces to the old terminal and various deck structures,” says Ristolainen.

“Performing a project of this complexity without BIM would have been very difficult. The team started working with 3D models when budgeting, and we continued to use them for all aspects of the project: scheduling, construction, communication, quality assurance and more,” he says.

Up to 200 designers from eight organizations created more than 400 digital models over the course of the project, with Tekla Structures serving as one of the main tools for this work. Source data for the initial models came from laser scans, with the geometry of affected existing structures modeled from the point-cloud analysis.
 Up to 200 designers from eight organizations created more than 400 digital models

The team also created a leading model that combined 3D data from all the different areas under construction. This was used to identify any clashes, as well as to plan deliveries so they would cause minimal disruption to the working airport. The model data was even used to create an instructional video showing transport routes and delivery locations. This work was coordinated by BIM specialist Gravicon.
Suppliers also used data from the 3D models to fabricate concrete, timber and steel components, including a 2,300-ton steel frame for supporting the 6,000 m2 wooden entrance canopy and ceiling. Ventilation chambers, facades and aluminum elements were among the many components modeled in 3D.

Accessible, safe and sustainable

Trimble Connect and Tekla Model Sharing were used for weekly updates and feedback sessions to keep everyone on the same page. BIM models visualized progress in design, fabrication and on-site work. Cast-in-place and precast reinforcements, steel roof trusses and foundation piles were all visible in the model.
The team credits this open approach with being critical to the success of keeping the work on schedule.

“BIM-based collaboration throughout the project has been our most decisive success factor,” says Ristolainen. “The visualizations produced by the models were used in almost all stakeholder meetings, helping us to engage various project parties and decision-makers in the construction process.”

With much of the work taking place amid Covid-19 restrictions, the team used the 3D models to create ‘virtual safaris’ for future retail tenants, employees and other interested stakeholders. Their feedback was included in iterating the design process, so that the accessibility, safety and overall user experience of the new terminal could be optimized for everyone. 

BIM simulations were used to experiment with different widths for routing passengers through various parts of the airport. The 3D models helped in planning fire-escape routes and the right angles for security cameras. Sun reflections were modeled too, with the result that curtains were added in places and some workstations were relocated. 

Thanks to Finavia’s long-term sustainability work, Helsinki Airport has been carbon neutral since 2017. Finavia’s next goal is to achieve net zero carbon emissions in all its airport operations, with BIM playing a central role.

The new terminal is 30% more energy-efficient than required by regulations. The key to this is the installation of over 2,000 solar panels on the roof of the new terminal. Their optimal positioning and potential energy yield were calculated through BIM simulations that plotted the course of the sun. This work was instrumental in the terminal extension being awarded the international BREEAM certification for sustainability. 

“Thanks to the BIM-based approach, all the parties involved had an excellent understanding of every aspect of the project,” says Ristolainen.” We achieved our objectives and showed that for future projects BIM will continue to be a crucial tool in project implementation.”

“Today the use of BIM in planning and construction is necessary so that all decision-makers, design disciplines, builders and stakeholders have the same understanding of what we are building together,” he says.

T2 Alliance project named as Best Structural BIM project in the Tekla Globa BIM Awards 2022. The jury credited the project for the wide use of the digital models, especially with synchronized production, and Takt-planning being spearheaded globally.


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