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Open House: Just Plane Ambitious

London unveils a new airline terminal on March 30, a few weeks after Beijing. Here's a look at the two new temples of aviation.

Open House: Just Plane Ambitious
Steve Parsons
Steve Parsons
London Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 5 Beijing Capital (PEK) Terminal 3
BRITISH BARON/ STARCHITECT Richard Rogers, aka Baron Rogers of Riverside, known for Paris's Pompidou Center and London's Millennium Dome Norman Foster, aka Lord Foster of Thames Bank, a licensed pilot who designed NYC's Hearst Tower
PRICE TAG $8.8 billion $3.6 billion
TIME TO BUILD 6 years 3.5 years
CAPACITY 30 million passengers 55 million passengers
SIZE 350,000 square meters—that's 50 soccer fields 1 million square meters—that makes it the world's largest air terminal
FLAGSHIP AIRLINE British Airways Air China
MOVING ELEMENT The Personal Rapid Transit System's battery-powered, pilotless capsules whisk passengers from the terminal to the parking lots. A $240 million baggage system, which resembles an underground roller coaster, can get luggage to passengers 4.5 min-utes after a plane is unloaded.
CONSTRUCTION-SITE EXILES Two rivers and 80,000 artifacts, such as a 5,000-year-old ax, were moved. Almost 10,000 villagers were forced to relocate.
AIRPORT-AS-MUSEUM The glass artworks by Nikki Bell and Ben Langlands are engraved inexplicably with airport codes. Because nothing says fine art like "LAX." The replicas of relics and monuments—Zhang Heng's Celestial Globe, the Nine-Dragon Wall—let you check "history" off your tourist list. More time for shopping!
NEAR-INSTANT OBSOLESCENCE With Heathrow already serving 50% more passengers than it was designed to handle, T5 is expected to reach capacity within a few months. With air traffic soaring in China, an entire new airport is already being planned for the thriving capital city, tentatively slated to open in 2015.
REASON TO VISIT, EVEN IF YOU'RE NOT FLYING Food: Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's 180-seat restaurant may be called Plane Food, but he's not one for little bags of salted nuts or stringy, rewarmed chicken breast. His goal is to create the first Michelin-starred airport restaurant. Food for the soul: In addition to the terminal's two multifaith prayer rooms—fully stocked with holy water!—there's a tranquil indoor garden planted in the style of the grounds of the ancient imperial Summer Palace.

A version of this article appeared in the March 2008 issue of Fast Company magazine.