Christchurch Airport Control Tower Hero

In 2006, Christchurch Airport began its extensive expansion project, which culminated in its new integrated terminal, completed in 2013. A new control tower was required as part of the terminal development, to replace the one in the old terminal building. Hawkins was appointed to construct this new 45 metre tall structure, which opened in September 2009.

Airways New Zealand’s objectives:

  • To construct a new control tower to replace the old one and to provide Airways New Zealand with extended views of the runways.

What we did:

We built the 45 metre high, $6 million Christchurch airport control tower in an extremely tight timeframe. Situated in a constantly busy and restrictive airport environment, the new control tower was procured under a design and build tender based on a performance specification.

Airways New Zealand wanted “an iconic building form” and the tower had to withstand the impacts of a once in 500-year earthquake, remaining fully functional.

The design is based around a steel frame core with curved precast concrete cladding panels that lean out at 4.6 degrees. No two panel faces were perpendicular to each other and yet all horizontal meeting surfaces had to be level.

The foundations required over 600 tonnes of concrete and reinforcement, which took five hours to pour and required 38 concrete deliveries to a site located in the middle of a fully operational international airport.

The tight construction programme meant we had to complete one floor level each week during the erection of the structure. Our construction team guided the design team to develop details that were buildable, i.e. that were functional and practical without detracting from the aesthetics of the tower.

Our team’s innovative thinking eliminated the need for external scaffolding during construction. The cladding panels were designed to be fixed from the inside with horizontal panel joints located at 1100mm above floor plate - saving not only life and limb, but time and cost as well. The majority of the structural elements were assembled on the ground, again providing safety advantages and increasing efficiency.

Unique challenges:

  • The tower’s geometry was an early challenge, in particular the use of precast panels. The building is effectively square at the ground level with a 42m² footprint, whereas it’s round at Level 12 with a 160m² footprint.
  • The tall and slender tower and its relatively low mass defines it as a wind-affected building and so wind loading was a critical design element. The wind made itself known when we were constructing the tower. It meant we were exposed to harsh weather at the higher levels and had to manage construction around this.
  • We were working in a limited building space, with a high volume of public movement around the site.
  • In order to prevent construction debris from damaging aircraft all those on site covered and nailed down all construction waste.
  • No metallic objects could be used near the antenna dishes and aerials, which we veiled beneath a circular plastic shield two-thirds of the way up the tower, designed to withstand gale-force winds and to minimise sound. In lieu of metals, we used glass and polycarbonates including for the screws and bolts.

The outcome:

The cone-shaped concrete tower helps control up to 800 aircraft movements every day. It is the highest control tower in New Zealand and has been designed to afford the best possible view of the airfield and surrounding airspace.

It was officially opened by the Prime Minister in September 2009.