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Architects Norman Foster, Fernando Romero to build Mexico City airport

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MEXICO CITY - British architect Norman Foster and Mexico's Fernando Romero have had their design chosen for Mexico City's new $9.2-billion airport, which is expected to quadruple the current airport's capacity to 120 million passengers per year, authorities announced Wednesday.

Communications and Transportation Department Secretary Gerardo Ruiz said both architects were picked by a committee on Tuesday and that contrary to past controversial airport proposals, authorities wouldn't expropriate any land.

Foster is one of the world's leading architects and designed the Beijing Terminal 3 airport. Romero is the son-in-law of Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim.

The new Mexico City airport will cover nearly 11,400 acres (4,600 hectares) of former lakebed adjacent about 6 miles (10 kilometres) from the present, over-crowded facility. It will have six runways and it's expected to be completed in 50 years. The old airport can handle only 32 million passengers per year. It will eventually be turned over to the city for recreational and educational use.

The project will require an investment of $9.16 billion (120 billion pesos), Ruiz said.

He said later Wednesday that construction of the new airport would begin in 2015.

President Enrique Pena Nieto said three runaways are expected to be up and running by 2020 and handle 52 million passengers per year.

"The new airport will be a grand work, a symbol of modern Mexico," Pena Nieto said.

Critics of the massive project say the land where it would be built is not suitable for a new airport.

Former Environment Secretary Jose Luege told Radio Formula that that part of Mexico City is prone to flooding.

Ruiz denied that and said impact studies have already been conducted and that there are plans to set up areas where rain water can be harvested to avoid floods.

The airy, lightweight, membrane-roofed terminal is designed in the form of a giant "X."

It will be "a modern, on the vanguard (project) that will have a great dose of Mexican symbolism and that without a doubt will be a reference around the world and a great door" into Mexico, Ruiz said.

Mexican officials said they hope the new airport becomes the main air hub in Latin America.

Foster, who has received some of the world's top architecture awards, including the Pritzker, said the airport will have spacious halls that can be used for art exhibitions.

Romero, who designed Carlos Slim's Soumaya museum and is the billionaire's son-in-law, said the airport will honour the Mexican flag's coat of arms, which has an eagle on top of a cactus that is devouring a snake and is a reference to Tenochtitlan, the pre-Columbian city where the capital is built on. The entrance to the terminal will have a garden of cacti and other elements to symbolize the snake and the eagle's wings.

In 2002, the government tried to expropriate the land from a group of farmers on the outskirts of Mexico City to build a new airport. But after violent clashes with the farmers from the town of San Salvador Atenco the government dropped the airport plan.

The airport proposed by Pena Nieto's administration will be built on federal land.

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