There is no other project like it: the first leisure “spaceport” located in the middle of the Nevada desert, one of the unique places on earth that is not flown over by commercial airlines. Designed by architects Foster + Partners, Spaceport Virgin Galactic was gradually erected on arid ground, as a slightly dramatic beacon for amateur astronauts promising them an equally unique experience.
A central vertical structure cuts through the whole edifice from the spacecraft hangar via the simulation area and other spaces, ending up in the lounge with its large, glazed wall. This space is equipped for living and working and offers a breathtaking view of the runway, which serves as a gateway to space for lucky patrons. London architects Viewport Studio, who are familiar with Virgin’s brand DNA (after designing Boeing 787 and Airbus A330 interiors for Virgin Atlantic), took on the singular challenge of designing the interior of this completely new type of airport with its enormous floor area of nearly 600 sq. m (6,460 sq. ft) and double-storey ceilings, where a catering area on the ground floor coexists with an open coworking space on the first floor and the operations centre.
Designer Gautier Pelegrin of Viewport Studio explains: “The apprentice astronauts don’t just come and take their spacecraft like they would board a plane. They stay for a while with their family and the professional astronauts, who train them for their flight. All this could be quite stressful, and it is essential for everyone to feel they are all part of the same team. This was primarily what Virgin Galactic requested regarding the layout of the common areas: people had to feel they were together. We had to provide for a teambuilding experience, which removed the differences between customers and staff, making them colleagues engaged in achieving the same goal, the success of the mission in a way. And all this had to be comfortable and pleasant.” All furniture and fittings were custom-designed, and the colours and textures were inspired by the natural environment: the colour of dark desert rock on the ground floor becoming white on the first floor evoking the sky’s burning light.
Absorbing sound waves
Enormous open spaces create acoustic challenges, especially here where there is only one immense wall located at the back. Pelegrin continues, “The building is a kind of rotunda with completely blind operations rooms and the control centre in the middle. The large common area is laid out around the central section in a circular segment. We installed sound-absorbing materials in slatted panels on the back wall and the mezzanine railings. The natural wood finish attenuates as it rises in the building, becoming thinner, white-painted slats above. To improve the sound absorbing qualities further, the interior architects turned to Texaa solutions. “The performance of the materials was really important in this project”, says the designer. In the open-space coworking area on the first floor that adjoins the control tower, wide mother-of-pearl-coloured Stereo and Stereo Air panels are fixed to the ceiling, while Vibrasto acoustic cladding of the same colour has been applied to the wall. “With the control tower so close, this solution made it possible to contain the sound reverberation so that operations staff are not bothered”, he goes on. “Because the flight operators work very close to each other. They need to be able to communicate verbally or non-verbally in milliseconds. And there is very little light so that the screens’ visibility is not compromised.” Inside the control room, Stereo acoustic panels are suspended in rows, tilted towards the screens with strip lighting between, providing the necessary acoustic comfort to enable absolute concentration. Prepare for take-off!
Project name: Spaceport Virgin Galactic
Year to be delivered: 2020
Town-city / Country: Las Cruces in the New Mexican desert, USA
Project owner or contracting authority: Virgin Galactic
Contractor: Foster + Partners (building architects) & Viewport Studio (interior design)
Photographer: Robin Zielinski
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