Technical Experts and the Production of Airport Infrastructure in Asia

Authors: Max Hirsh*, University of Hong Kong
Topics: China, Transportation Geography
Keywords: airports, aviation, infrastructure, expertise, China, Asia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Maryland C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper studies the technical experts who plan, design, and manage airport infrastructure projects in Asia. These planners and engineers have played a crucial role in the introduction of infrastructural expertise into Asia’s national planning cultures. Working simultaneously on multiple projects, technical consultants offer a “bird’s eye view” to local clients on broader urban development trends. Tasked with harmonizing global standards with local building codes and cultural practices, they adapt international norms to the site-specific design constraints of rapidly developing cities in China. By planning the overwhelming majority of Asia’s hubs, they have guided the development of a cross-border aviation system that critically underpins regional integration in Asia.

To date, scholars of urban infrastructure have overlooked the role of these experts. Their absence can be attributed to the relative invisibility of the specialist consultancies where most technical experts work. While large corporate architecture firms and state-run aviation authorities manage the public face of megaprojects, they rarely devise specific planning, design, and engineering guidelines. The niche consultancies that perform these tasks maintain a low profile, are unknown outside of industry circles, and remain unaccounted for in the existing literature. The paper studies three airport planning and engineering firms that have designed most of the airports in China over the past 50 years. It investigates how these firms interact with local planning agencies, and how their technical plans are subsequently adapted in accordance with local social, spatial, and regulatory norms.

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