Continuing terrorist threats, repercussions from the deregulation of the aviation industry in 1978, recession and high diesel fuel prices have brought some major U.S. airlines to the brink of bankruptcy recently. That sent airport construction spiraling downward, to a record-low level of just 25 million sq ft in 2002 and still lower over 2003, according to McGraw-Hill Construction’s third quarter 2003 report, The Outlook for Miscellaneous Nonresidential Buildings. ENR and Architectural Record are divisions of McGraw-Hill Construction.

But there is cause for optimism, with contracts expected to average more than 9% annual gains between 2004-2006, the report states. Owners and airlines that shelved plans are rethinking options especially since Congress approved a four-year, $60-billion aviation bill last month that authorizes $14.2 billion for federal airport grants and $2 billion for a new airport security grant program (ENR 12/1 p. 13).


Two of the most talked-about trends–building more airports for smaller craft and adapting existing airports for bigger ones–are happening almost simultaneously.

Planners are gearing up for super-jumbo jets which will carry up to 600 or more passengers at today’s speeds, including the Airbus A380, scheduled to arrive on the scene in 2005. The 261-ft wingspans will require airports to build new facilities to accommodate them, predicts C. Patrick Askew, senior vice president of Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, St. Louis.

To that end, Perkins & Will is designing two concourses at the gigantic Dubai International Airport. Perkins & Will principal G. William Doerge explains that "in Dubai we are designing certain gates in Concourse II to allow boarding and deplaning to occur on two levels."

Evan Futterman, aviation services chairman for HNTB, Kansas City, says several U.S. airports are preparing for the A380 in future designs. Los Angeles International Airport anticipates up to six A380s. The huge planes will require reconfiguring taxiways and double-decking holding bridges.

"It will affect airfield, parking and terminal design," says E. Vincent Hourigan, aviation business development and planning director for Denver-based CH2M Hill Cos. An A-380 will require larger safety areas on the airfield; it may mean no planes on parallel taxiways unless the airport redesigns the runway system.

At the same time, those airports will also have to design for the regional jets. While larger aircraft require gate areas that accommodate some 500 passengers deplaning, boarding or waiting, regional carriers want to get their average 80-person planeload in and out fast.

"The emergence of low-fare carriers in the U.S. means more frequent flights to more destinations with smaller aircraft," says Hal Hayes, an airport architect and HOK vice president. "This is a direct response to the highly competitive market and the very cost-conscious consumer of today. There are not many things that people are willing to pay more for, but a non-stop flight at the right time is one of them."

Airlines and airport owners are finding it more efficient to keep an airport terminal running at a constant level of activity of frequent flights than to have a massive crush at peak times followed by long periods of inactivity, he adds.

Southwest Airlines is doing a $152-million renovation of the 500,000-sq-ft Terminal A/B at Baltimore Washington International Airport and a $43-million reconstruction of a terminal in Ronkonkoma, N. Y. JetBlue Airways is in discussions with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to renovate the I.M. Pei-designed former National Airlines Sundrome at John F. Kennedy International Airport and may use the abandoned adjacent TWA Terminal, designed by Eero Saarinen, for automated ticketing and other services.

"What’s real important is to understand the aviation industry today–to understand what a low-cost carrier needs," says Richard Smythe, vice president of development for JetBlue. "It’s about where the money is best spent. That applies to our terminal. We don’t have to have the most grandiose space, but it has to be comfortable, with the right feel."

JetBlue plans to expand its 52-aircraft fleet with orders for up to 400 more and could invest up to $500 million in construction over the next few years, he says.

REACHING Airports must balance aesthetics and function.
(Photo courtesy of DMJM)


The adventure that became large-scale commercial aviation was a by-product of World War II. In a July 1943 Architectural Record article on "Airports of the Future," architect J. Gordon Carr noted: "According to a government report, there will be about 865 major airports in the United States by the end of 1943, exclusive of military airdromes....Less than 100 such fields existed in 1940."

He predicted that when the war ended, "numerous new airports for the use of military transport and combat planes...will be available for civilian air transport use." Like most planners of the time, Carr erroneously assumed that there would be many small specialized airports instead of one or two big ones in each city. He said very little about what airports would look like.

It wasn’t until the next decade that the first airports with distinctive architectural character appeared. The first was the long, vaulted Lambert-St. Louis Municipal Airport Terminal of 1954 by Yamasaki, Hellmuth, and Leinweber (predecessors of HOK). Its interlocking, thin-shell-concrete barrel vaults created soaring, bright interior spaces.

A few years later, in 1956-62, Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at JFK (then Idlewild) airport used an even more daring vaulting technique to symbolize flight, and with a sequence of fluid interior spaces, to sweep passengers to and from planes. The building became symbolic of its age–the time when airplanes first connected the world–long after its small size became impractical. Saarinen’s much larger Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., had an even bolder concept–mobile lounges to bring the passengers to the airplanes.

Concepts like these may change in the next era. "The design model is changing and that’s caused by security, financial restraints and customer experience," says D. Kent Turner, HOK director of transportation. "The trend is moving from spending money on the ‘big roof’ statement and putting it into concessions and areas where it benefits the customer more directly." The "wow" factor is de-emphasized in favor of revenue-generating concessions and information systems for kiosks, wireless technology and screening, he says.


Other trends that began abroad are the maximization of retail development and the quest for regional identity. Amsterdam’s Schiphol and London’s Heathrow airports were the first to fully exploit shopping to generate revenue and entertain waiting passengers. Retail is a key component of the new Dubai airport, and each concourse has at least one hotel.

The new $939-million Indianapolis Airport terminal currently in design required a "balancing act" for "generating concessions and allowing meeters and greeters to utilize those services while also making them convenient for passengers on the other side of the security checkpoint," says Ken Johnson, contract manager for Hunt Construction, Indianapolis, the construction manager.

The most dramatic early example of regional identity was the Haj Terminal at King Abdul Aziz International in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, of 1976-82, designed by SOM’s Gordon Bunshaft. A series of tall, sun-reflecting, glass-fiber tents supported on steel columns recalls the desert fabric structures used in ancient times to announce visitors (ENR 1/18/79 p. 60).

Some of the most aesthetically adven-turous airports of recent years are those built in places where mass air travel was beginning to increase dramatically. Kansai International Airport in Osaka and Chek Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong both took a high-tech approach augmented by dramatic views. Architect Kisho Kurokawa’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport design is composed of linked hyperbolic parabolic shells supported by stubby conical columns that contain and distribute mechanical services. The vaults suggest a forest and recall traditional Islamic forms. Murphy/Jahn’s New Bangkok International Airport terminal is a light-framed glass structure with Thai images of a city garden and a country garden.

The first attempt to develop an airport with a sense of place in the U.S. was Cesar Pelli’s 1997 addition to Cheney and Goodman’s National Airport in Washington, DC. It has delicate classical domes reflecting that of the Capitol. The $840-million international terminal in San Francisco, completed in 2000, evokes the city by the bay by crossing the airport’s approach roadway as a long-span bridge. Fentress Bradburn Architects’ Denver International Airport emulates the silhouette of the Rockies west of the city. In Canada, the new Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, designed by Brook Beynon Architects of Toronto and Stantec Architecture of Vancouver, contains simulated rapids and canals terminating in a wall-length waterfall in the arrivals hall to symbolize the river city.

The first major new U.S. airport project since 9/11, Indianapolis’ new terminal, designed by HOK, will have a central circular gathering space reminiscent of the city’s Monument Circle. Indianapolis also exemplifies another trend, that of "green" airport terminals.

"Airports are getting real serious about that," says Jane O’Donnell, director of aviation for Turner Construction Co., New York City. "Is it a blip on the screen or a movement?" But with the increasing use of wireless technology at airports, "having power efficiency may be the hand-in-hand adaptation." That efficiency will include solar power, recyclable energy and heat retention. HNTB’s Futterman notes that Panama City, Fla., is looking at a new airport to be certified with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Rating System.

Energy efficiency will help balance out the costs of high technology, which will also greatly affect airport design, says Scott Collier, consultant with ZHA Inc., Orlando. Common-use self-ticketing kiosks, electronic bag tags and remote skycap service facilities located away from the terminal "are about ready to explode onto the scene," he says. The future is coming, and it is wireless.

Spurred by security upgrades, low-cost carrier growth and a general need to modernize, airports in a number of major U.S. cities are again planning or starting to move earth. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey alone has $2.25 billion worth of projects under way at JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark-Liberty airports. American Airlines’ new $1.4-billion, 55-gate terminal at JFK is moving forward, as is $500 million worth of new cargo facilities.

Plans are in the works for modernization of the central terminal at LaGuardia, redevelopment of Terminals A and B and parking at Newark and a retrofit of the classic Saarinen terminal for low-cost carrier JetBlue Airways at JFK.

BIG PLANS Chicago's $6-billion O'Hare plan will keep designers busy. (Photo by Tudor Hampton for ENR)

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, designs are moving forward with a $6.6-billion expansion, including a 2.5- million-sq-ft new terminal, a new 7,500-ft runway and five runway extensions.

U.S. and Canadian airport projects that began construction before Sept. 11 also have been moving toward completion. The $4.48-billion Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto, designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill, opens this month. SOM is completing a $200-million renovation of Terminal E at Boston’s

Logan International Airport. HOK is working on a $350-million expansion of Logan’s Terminal A, designing the 120-gate south terminal complex at Orlando International Airport and a $600-million expansion of Metropolitan Oakland Airport.

But they do so with adjustments based on new and evolving security requirements from the Transportation Security Administration and other design issues. "Airports are easily the most complex building type," says Hayes. "They have a whole series of special systems which are seen nowhere else, on an enormous scale."

Designers have to consider the elements of vehicles on multilevel roadways, spatial and circulation requirements of aircraft and related equipment, and the crowds that ebb and flow throughout the day.

"It’s like a body with multiple systems of interdependent organs, so anything that happens in one part will affect a number of others," says Hayes. "A failure in one system can shut down the entire terminal." Most airports must figure out how to handle expansion or renovation that takes place while the airport continues to function. And the buildings have to continue to provide for change.

Click below for more articles from special report "Airports of the Future">>

Introduction: Challenges in Airport Design and Construction Aren't New
International: Global Aviation Takes Off
Security: Baggage Screening Goes In-line, Out of View
Regionals: Reviving with Revisions
Connections: Take the Train to the Plane
Airport Products

esigning and constructing airports, already a most complicated building type, has become a constant exercise in adapting to change. Nobody could have predicted the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which devastated the already depressed aviation industry, frightened the flying public, and necessitated a host of new security procedures and architectural changes to support them.