SHH has completed a luxurious £3m, 2-storey VIP passenger lounge at Biggin Hill airport, for client Rizon Jet, a Middle East- and UK-based private aviation group. Located within a major new-build 130,000 sq m hangar and VIP terminal facility at the airport, the lounge - comprised of a 478 sq m ground floor space with an additional 186 sq m purpose-built mezzanine floor - was launched at the same time as a similar facility in Doha, State of Qatar (created by Doha-based company Art Line).
With the opening of the new VIP Lounge, Rizon Jet now has a full range of services to offer today's discerning traveller. "We are very excited to see the start of operations at the beautiful FBO/VIP Lounge, which has been built and completed under the supervision of SHH," commented Patrick Enz, Chief Executive of Rizon Jet. "The design of the lounge reflects in a modern way the corporate design and heritage of the Qatari company. The opening of the Lounge marks a major milestone for Rizon Jet."
Biggin Hill is a historic UK airport, located near Bromley, just south-east of central London, which was originally opened by the British Royal Flying Corps in World War One, when it served to protect by capital against attacks by Zeppelins and Gotha bombers. In World War Two, the airfield played an even greater role in British history as the commanding base for the Battle of Britain, when it was home to spitfires and hurricanes from many different squadrons. The airfield ceased to be an operational RAF station in 1958 and, when the original London Airport at Croydon closed, Biggin Hill began its life cycle as a civilian airport (with some remaining military involvement right up to 1992). As it is legally not permissible for operators to use it for scheduled or holiday charter flights, the airport became a prime location for the private and business market. The Formula 1 motor racing headquarters are also based at Biggin Hill and are the new neighbours of the Rizon Jet facility, whilst the airfield regularly features in movie sets, including the 'Da Vinci Code.'
"The two new Rizon Jet Lounges and FBO-VIP Terminals in the UK and Doha began with a similar outline concept," explained SHH Project Architect and Associate Guy Matheson, "but SHH were then commissioned in August 2010 to interpret and develop this concept to create a more European feel for the Biggin Hill Lounge, which nonetheless retains many Arabic references in both material choice and functionality, to reflect the Qatari heritage of the company, the linked locations and similar passenger profile at the two terminals. The starting point for our design concept was the Rizon Jet branding and 'star' marque, which was interpreted and applied in a variety of ways and at different scales throughout the interior."
The brief from the client to SHH was to create 'a six star hotel reception' with a comfortable lounge feel. "It was all about creating a space that people want to spend time in," added Matheson. "This was achieved through a simple and calm colour palette; luxurious finishes; a high proportion of bespoke furniture and a strong emphasis on comfort. The main space is a dramatic double height volume, which is split into interesting, zoned lounges with different treatments and with a variety of privacy levels, so that customers can immediately find the right space for their need state, whilst retaining glimpsed views of everything else going on in the facility."
Rizon Jet passengers first arrive at the lounge at the west end of the hangar to be met by doormen in top hats and tails and a valet parking service. Entry is directly into the impressive double-height space, with planes instantly visible. If customers wish to fast-track straight to departure, an 'expressway' path is clearly marked out by a panel of 'Emperador Light' marble flooring, leading to the departure gate, where normal British customs, security and passport services apply. Huge-scale lighting, in the form of hand-made crystal pendant lights specially made for the scheme in the Czech Republic, also lines the route, set into a sculptural, walnut-veneered, 300mm deep suspended ceiling raft, created in a fretwork pattern based on the Rizon Jet identity, which continues beyond the security wall and up to the runway ribbon, giving customers a sense of the full depth of the space.
Passengers with more time in hand, however, will benefit from the full services the lounge has on offer. The ground floor lounge space instantly communicates an atmosphere of richness and structural drama, firstly through a full-height living wall, with foliage set into colour patterns, to the right of the entrance area (created by ANS Group), set to self-water automatically to ensure a uniform look and easy maintenance and framed by a cold cathode surround.
In front of the living wall, the greeter's desk front is in a finned sculptural wood pattern in walnut (designed by SHH and made by William Dulcie Ltd), repeated for the full-height feature wall directly ahead between landside and landside, which seems to alter in form as passengers approach. Here, the Rizon Jet concierge greets passengers and seeks to build up relationships with frequent flyers with advance briefing encouraged on customers' favourite foods, television programmes and so on. Luggage is immediately taken away, so as not to clutter the space, and given back only when passengers wish to begin the embarkation process. The lounge is also almost entirely signage-free to ensure a luxury feel, with passenger direction and the explanation and clarification of services all part, instead, of the facilitator's role. Material quality is also announced through the marble flooring, in 'Bottocini Fiorito Light' on either side of the 'Emperador Light' central runway route (which also used in a darker version for the toilets to the centre right of the ground floor area).
"The lighting scheme for the project, created by SHH together with Deltalight, is all about control," explained Guy Matheson. "We have combined cold cathode lighting in the ceiling rafts with downlighting, along with individual floor and table lamps, so that there is complete inbuilt flexibility and the possibility of very gentle and intimate lighting in the later hours."
To the left, a further major feature takes the form of a series of striking, full-height perforated columns in a distressed metal finish (featuring a further application of the star motif from Rizon Jet's corporate identity and manufactured for the scheme by Seamless Industries), create a near-circle around the first of four zoned ground floor lounges. Within the columns, ultra-comfortable seating in lounge one takes the form of a single circular sofa with pale brown fabric seats and a dark brown fabric back with gold circles on a macasar ebony base, designed by Emlyn Conlon of SHH and manufactured by Lyndon Design. A bespoke wool and silk rug, incorporating the star marque (also designed by Emlyn Conlon of SHH and manufactured by Tai Ping) is in the centre of the lounge, whilst the near-circle formed by the columns is completed by the addition of two armchairs from Bolier in a macasar ebony frame with cotton fabric upholstery in black.
A second semi-circular open lounge lies immediately beyond - the largest on this level - demarcated for contrast by a ribbon flooring border, especially created for the project to an SHH design by Unique Surfaces, using water jet technology. The ceiling above lounge two also has its own ceiling design treatment with rectangular lighting troughs cut into the ceiling. Furniture here uses a domestic vernacular, with flooring in a silk and wool hand-tufted rug (once again a bespoke design by Emlyn Conlon of SHH, manufactured by Tai Ping) and a mix of lounge and sofa seating from Bolier, interspersed with small side tables with a black chrome base and dark brown lacquer top (from Meridiani), along with twisted glass table lamps from Porta Romana and floor lamps from Natuzzi. Television screens are discreetly incorporated into bespoke walnut and distressed mirror units (designed by SHH and created by William Dulcie), with mirror screens to ensure they fit easily within the design when not in use.
"All M&E and audio-visual elements have been carefully incorporated with no visible workings," commented Matheson, "so as not to disturb the clean lines and sleek look of the space. There are no speakers or grilles on view and we have made full use of architectural detailing to ensure these workings are kept from view. In each lounge, for example, bespoke joinery items such as consoles or coffee tables contain Crestron touch panels and concealed wiring in order to control lighting and AV."
Beyond the first two lounges, two elegant bespoke display cabinets (designed by Emlyn Conlon of SHH and made by Interior Joinery) feature ultra-high-end goods for sale, including watches and jewellery.
To the right, the ground floor's third and fourth lounges are again circular in shape, identical in look, although differentiated from the other lounges by sunken banquette seating two steps down (once again bespoke-designed by SHH and made by Lyndon Design, with a dark grey leather seat and back in dark brown fabric with gold circles).
Beyond lounges three and four, the toilet and washroom area is discreetly announced by a wraparound wall with a silk wall covering. Design features here include bespoke console units and a mirror in each area in black, scalloped lacquer from Ecco Trading.
The mezzanine level offers passengers greater levels of privacy, but with the same design ideas throughout so that the spaces stay connected. "We had the Arabic customer demographic particularly in mind on this floor," explained SHH Senior Designer Emlyn Conlon, "where the cultural requirement for privacy is greater than in Europe. Here, customers can be served food and drink a little more discreetly or can wait in any of three additional lounges, which also cater for children - or can else use the business centre or prayer room. The entire floor can also be booked out for any single user group in advance."
Lounges five and six directly overlook the ground floor space, kept semi-visible through a sloping, fabric-laminated glass wall (using an off-white textured and rippled fabric) created by Sekon Glassworks, with the star from the Rizon Jet corporate identity sandblasted onto the glass at huge scale. SHH were careful to vary both the size of the graphic references to the logo with each use and to vary its material application to ensure both variety and scale. Seating in lounges five and six features sofas from The Sofa and Chair Company in dark brown leather with a gold fabric seat and wingback armchairs from Bolier. Side tables are from La Fibule and lamps are by Porta Romana.
At either side of this protruding area, the glass walls above the ground floor feature overlaid fretwork timber panels, finished in cream lacquer, referencing the star marque. The area is carpeted throughout with fabric wall linings in subtle off-white shades and is designed for customers who not only to have both more privacy but also who want to use the facilities for longer periods of time or with children in attendance. Lounges five and six therefore include consoles with concealed Wii and Playstation consoles, whilst lounge seven has a central coffee table with crayons, colouring books, reading books and board games. A blackboard and chalk are also available.
"We were instructed not to create designated children's areas," explained Emlyn Conlon, "but instead to build this function into the three mezzanine lounges in a concealed way, so that the prevailing sophisticated feel is retained for either family or non-family use."
Bespoke units in each room are in macasar ebony veneer with leather inlay, containing and concealing Crestron AV and lighting control panels, designed by SHH and manufactured by Interior Joinery.
The business area includes a full conference room for up to twelve people with video conferencing and tea-point facilities. The conference table is in walnut (from Plan Mobil) and the conference chairs - the 'Aston' chair - are by Arper. A sandblasted glass sliding wall delineates a separate office space, whilst the front of the combined business area ieatures a curving glass wall (again using the star design in large scale), with grey voiles discreetly giving a feeling of privacy for the two spaces, which can be booked either separately or together.
Toilets and washrooms on this floor are all in marble, whilst the prayer room, which has been fully blessed and which faces Mecca, has been designed with low-level walnut plinths and a dragged Armourcoat wall finish. Opposite the prayer room, a fretwork panelled wall overlooks the lounge, with natural light coming in along the bottom and with mirrored panelling at the top, concealing storage.
Photos: Andy Spain