Urban farms and airships: transforming an airport into a futuristic city

A proposal for a new city that will replace Heathrow airport in London, UK, includes the development of the country’s first airship hub, a slew of urban farms and a housing factory to keep up with population demands.

As one of three proposals for the planned Heathrow City, the design by noted British architectural practice Hawkins\Brown was commissioned by London’s Mayor Boris Johnson as part of an ongoing campaign to move the overcrowded airport to a location on the edge of East London.

Although the concept appears to be futuristic, the company believes it is a viable and sustainable solution to the area.

“A big site like Heathrow needs big ideas. Heathrow City should be a platform for innovation on a massive scale,” explained Hawkins\Brown partner Daryl Chen.

“We want to capture the same pioneering spirit and romance that characterised Heathrow’s first airborne adventures. We hope our vision inspires other new ideas about Heathrow’s and London’s future.”


One of the most exiting aspects of the proposal is the plan to integrate an airship port.

They might seem like a relic of a long-forgotten era of travel, but airships are set to make a comeback for cargo transportation due to their improved green credentials.

With six companies in the US and UK developing airship technologies and the first commercial freight flights planned for 2021, before long zeppelins could be in our skies once more.

The port is intended to provide a key source of income to the new city – an important part of any viable urban proposal – but it’s not the only way Hawkins\Brown plans to boost the local economy.

London faces a major housing shortage, which could in part be tackled by the proposed factory for homes; as well as creating jobs and export potential, this would enable efficient, low-cost construction of innovative houses and apartments.

Other plans for businesses in the area include reworking Heathrow’s Terminal 5 to become a biomedical campus providing teaching and research.


Terminal 2 would become Heathrow City Farms, an intensive farming operation to churn out rare and high-demand fruit and vegetables both for the city and the country as a whole.

Hawkins\Brown has proposed converting the space to provide four floors of climate-controlled growing spaces, with the capacity to churn out 68,000 artichokes, 6 million romaine lettuces and 464,000 cherry tomato plants.

Green spaces form a significant part of the city proposal in general. The old runways would be transformed into a continuous park creating a ring round the city centre.

The architects believe that the park could “become one of the great parks of London”, and have proposed an innovative way to use it for events and festivals without causing damage.

Instead of designating certain key zones for events, these would rotate round the park over time, in a system that takes inspiration from the crop rotation techniques used by traditional farmers.

Images courtesy of Hawkins\Brown via Mayor of London.