Istanbul-based Autoban slots a series of cocoons into the Heydar Aliyev Airport in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The scalding landscape around Baku has been spontaneously combusting for thousands of years and, in a sense, is still bursting into flame today. Azerbajian, of which it is the capital, having slipped the yoke of the USSR and war with Armenia next door, has been tapping shallow-lying pockets of oil and gas and enshrining that newfound wealth in architecture, including three towers designed by HOK in the shape of 39-storey wavering flames animated with video images of . . . wavering flames.

After this incendiary and the gratifying plasticity of Zaha Hadid's Heydar Aliyev Center, Arup has architected a 60,000-m2 airport with interiors by Istanbul office Autoban.

Working from Arup's high-contrast geometries and the ubiquitous sand colour of the city's limestone facades, Autoban layered surfaces with triangles and hexagons at varying scales to look legible and effortless instead of ornate. The studio used durable natural materials (the airport is 99 per cent quartz-based and planted with real trees) and added their own micro-architecture: 16 biomorphic ‘cocoons’ host amenities (from a spa to coffeehouses), giving the terminal a human scale.

Some cocoons feature open latticework – bent African ayous wood beams slotted together – that renders structure as skin and ornament; in others, this same structure is clad in wooden panels that either rise to an enclosed peak or are cut open at an diagonal. ‘To make the cocoons, we played with natural materials and worked with craftsmen, but we also used CNC milling, laser-cutting and high-tech methods,’ says partner Seyhan Özdemir. ‘From the choice of material to the design approach, there were a lot of question marks. It wasn’t easy to break the conventions.’

Photos Kerem Sanliman