Manchester Airport Terminal 2 Transformation Project

Manchester, UK

Manchester Airport is the third busiest airport in the UK. With passenger numbers continuing to grow, the £1 billion transformation programme will help to facilitate the Northern hub’s growth aspirations. The extension and reconfiguration of Terminal 2 will more than double the facility’s size as this transport hub is developed into a world-class international gateway. Visitors to the expanded, reconfigured terminal will enjoy the very best modern customer experience.

Buro Happold supported Laing O’Rourke’s delivery of the Manchester Airport Transformation Programme by providing a range of design disciplines – including civil and structural engineering along with facade design – for the main terminal building, piers, baggage hall, car park and site-wide infrastructure.


This major transformation presents three key overarching challenges: delivering to a demanding programme, achieving cost-effective solutions, and providing the best quality product for the client within project constraints.

The Terminal 2 Extension Building is a large and complicated structure comprising over 6,500 new structural steel elements. Predefined, immovable delivery dates made it essential for the team to hand over key parts of the project within specified timescales. Furthermore, client requirements around limiting operational impact had to be met while building within a live airport environment.

manchester airport transformation project terminal 2
Buro Happold applied visual programming software to process large amounts of data quickly – BIM modelling was used in a highly advanced way. Image: Buro Happold


Buro Happold used innovative design techniques that helped to deliver a demanding programme. For the terminal, Laing O’Rourke wanted minimal movement joints because they create construction and operational issues. This created the substantial challenge of analysing 8,000 tonnes of steelwork with significant gravity and lateral forces while controlling the build-up of thrusts and stresses caused by the anticipated temperature changes and a lack of movement joints. Rather than analysing four structures separated by movement joints, we had to evaluate two double-sized buildings – as a structure gets bigger so it becomes increasingly difficult to control thermal forces, building movements and resistance to lateral loads such as wind and blast pressure.

To simplify this task our team wrote programme scripts that pulled several computer analysis tools together to create combined, coordinated models. This allowed us to alter variables and have the systems process vast amounts of design iteration data very quickly. The decision to adopt such an advanced computational engineering process proved essential in delivering the structural steel design to deadline.

The client also benefited from our cutting-edge Building Information Management (BIM) techniques in designing the terminal’s multi-storey car park, which provides 3,800 short-term spaces. Essentially modelling every nut and bolt, the team “constructed” the building with Laing O’Rourke in a virtual world to identify potential problems before getting to site. This planning afforded full control to mitigate risks of time and cost. Additionally, the design features a hybrid precast concrete-steel deltabeam arrangement that created time savings in the construction programme. Due to changes in the structural form and accelerated delivery, this meant that Manchester Airports Group could derive revenue from parking charges earlier than originally expected.

Our approach benefitted the client by reducing operational impact, which safeguarded income. Image: Buro Happold
Close-up, angular shot of design for multi-storey car park at Manchester Airport Terminal 2.
Innovative, cutting-edge design techniques optimised speed of construction for the multi-storey car park. Image: Buro Happold

An opportunity to achieve the best quality product for Manchester Airports Group within project restraints was identified when constructing the node buildings for the piers. Rather than use the designated construction site – which overlapped with operational remote aircraft parking stands that would have required temporary decommissioning – and to align with Laing O’Rourke’s 70:60:30 DfMA approach we discussed solutions for off-site prefabrication to shorten the programme. The ultimate selected solution retained the remote stands for longer, reducing operational impact and optimising client income.

A similarly client-focused strategy was applied to the terminal extension, for which we used sophisticated design techniques to refine the brief.  Scale models of the blast facade’s exposed steelwork connections were produced using 3D printing. This allowed the client, stakeholders and suppliers to physically handle the connections in meetings, which simplified agreement on the constructability and striking aesthetic of these important details.

manchester airport expansion project
3D printing produced scaled-down models of the blast facade exposed steelwork connections to help decide the constructability and aesthetics of these important details. Image: Buro Happold

Elsewhere, we rationalised Manchester Airports Group’s design to allow a significant increase – 250m – in the length of micro-tunnelled ductwork, which reduced disruption to airport operations. Buro Happold also identified opportunities to route services at high level and so reduced excavation of the half-metre thick external apron by approximately 600m2.


The client has benefitted from an approach that balances strict adherence to time and cost with a meticulous professionalism that delivers without compromise. Notably, as the brief was refined, our state-of-the-art modelling for the steelwork to the terminal building allowed this huge structure to commence fabrication and manufacture on time, feeding the construction programme.

By applying BIM and supporting model federation with LOR, we have developed and maintained a highly accurate model of the evolving airport design. This has let us be agile with our design, optimising the works required to suit developments without jeopardising the timetable.

The value that we have brought to the project in terms of time and cost savings, coupled with the close support that we have provided to the on-site team, has created a succession of outcome-driven solutions that sustain the vision for Manchester Airport.

Interior view of escalators at Manchester Terminal 2
The new, enlarged terminal will deliver a smooth and seamless passenger experience. Image: BHE

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