A World-Class International Gateway

Sept. 25, 2006
Grand Prize Winner in Buildings’ New Construction Awards (Large Projects) 2006: D/FW Intl. Airport, Terminal D, Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX, submitted by Corgan Associates Inc., HKS Inc., and HNTB Architecture Inc.

The design challenge was bold, decisive, and innovative; the process to get there, and the ensuing result, was that - and more.

Six years after the Dallas/Ft. Worth (D/FW) Intl. Airport Board set out to create a new international passenger terminal that would set new standards for facility design, function, and amenities (and thanks to a fast-track delivery schedule), the D/FW Intl. Airport Terminal D opened its doors to offer travelers a passenger-oriented environment designed to immediately familiarize them with a sense of place.

Project goals were complex and multi-faceted. Foremost was to shoehorn capacity for 37,800 passengers per day into a footprint originally designated for a terminal half that size, but to also provide maximum operational flexibility. Added to that endeavor was the construction of a new access roadway, an 8,100-space parking garage, a 300-room hotel, and connectivity to the airport-wide automated people-mover system - all of which had to be seamlessly integrated into the airport campus without compromising existing operations. Finally, in order to advance the airport’s stature as an international gateway with the likes of other best-in-class airports, passenger experience was at the core of the Terminal D design. To elicit a favorable response and mitigate the anxiety that travelers often experience, the project team assessed likely movements of enplaning and deplaning passengers, considering not only the immediate impact of each distinct public space, but also the impact of how the spaces relate to one another. The design team, selected by D/FW 9 months after the initial workshop/schematic design effort, was comprised of HKS Inc. (managing architect/design architect), Corgan Associates (architect of record/design architect), and HNTB (lead design architect). Innovation and a final design resulted from the unique partnership of these three firms working with the D/FW Intl. Airport Design Review Committee. “All of these roles really came naturally from the strength and experiences of the three different architectural companies,” explains Vlasta P. Poch, design principal architect at HNTB Architecture Inc., Washington, D.C.

Rick Lee, senior vice president at Dallas-based HKS Inc. and the project director for the program, concurs with Poch’s assessment, adding, “We were all co-located in one area, so we had designers from all three firms working together, brainstorming, and conceptualizing. A program of that size is just a daunting task,” he says. “Together, we developed a process called an ‘interactive design concept,’ with presentations to a design committee made up of airport board personnel, airline personnel, and other airport staff. Literally, we went from presentation boards with nothing but words on them (‘What does the term “international terminal” mean to you?’) to the review committee’s concepts of those words into images, then massing studies on the wall, to conceptual floor plans, and so on. Then, we broke the program into parts - the parking garage project, the terminal project, the roadway project - to distinguish them and make them more manageable.”

With such a large project and extensive timeframe, the team also had to make sure appropriate contingencies were in place to overcome changes in the market or any unexpected circumstances or events. No one anticipated the tragic events of 9/11 - or the effect they might have on a project that was already significantly under way. Fortunately, the process in place and the commitment and ingenuity of the project team took this very difficult time in stride, adapting the design into a more robust structure that also accommodated more stringent requirements of the airport-security and baggage-handling infrastructures. “Because we had incorporated design and passenger-service aspects based upon our review of other international precedents like [the airports in] Amsterdam, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore, we already had a lot of good input in terms of future-thinking. That put us in a much better position than most to move forward, with fairly minimal changes, following 9/11,” says Chuck Armstrong, director of design at Corgan Associates Inc., Dallas. To maintain construction progress while design changes were under way, a short-term rolling schedule was developed. The result: The project was completed on budget and only 3 months behind the originally scheduled completion date. More importantly, the necessary design and construction changes were implemented in a way that was largely transparent to passengers, preserving the aesthetic experience of the terminal.

And, what an experience Terminal D has become ...

The roofing system was designed with both aesthetics (a symbolic icon representing flight) and durability in mind. A non-reflective stainless steel was selected to achieve both without impeding pilot views to the landing strip. The largest of its kind, encompassing 11 acres, the curvilinear roof “consists of a series of segmented strips on a grid, none of which are actually curved. All of this was achieved through a sort of unique structural design and symbiosis with architectural sensitivity,” says HNTB’s Poch.

The passenger-focused design approach calms departing passengers through orderly spaces, instantly available information, natural daylighting, and spatial openness. The vertical distribution of the design - unlike anything else at D/FW Intl. Airport - and extensive use of gray-glass curtainwall in the façade support this sense of openness and evoke the scale and spaciousness of the Texas landscape. Once past security, the traveler is offered an exciting and stimulating air-side experience. The muted color palette of soft grays and blue, white metal, and brushed stainless steel maintain a feeling of calm while extensive use of art in the terminal’s public spaces creates excitement and energy. According to Corgan’s Armstrong, “The application and placement of the art program throughout the terminal is very unique. We’ve seen lots of art programs applied to different airports, but probably none where the actual implementation is so consistent and complementary to passenger wayfinding. For example, art medallions in floors are associated with gates; we also tried to reinforce the passengers’ experience and pathway by placing art in places where they need to make a decision [about directions] or need to pass through.”

The project also encompasses the integration of energy efficiency and environmental awareness. During the design phase, the building department changed to the 2000 Intl. Building Code, which includes the Intl. Energy Conservation Code (IECC), guiding major system components. Additionally, more than 25,000 tons of concrete were recycled and reused on-site; 95 percent of the materials from the implosion of the Hyatt Regency West were recycled. Interior materials were also selected with sustainability in mind; special consideration was given to heating and cooling systems that accommodate the building’s extensive use of glazing. Natural illumination - an openness that helps continue the focus on the passenger experience - is the positive result of such glazing in vertical walls and linear skylights; at the same time, glare and heat load have been reduced through widespread use of low-E coatings, tinted glass, sloped systems, and mesh screens.

For travelers, airport personnel, and the project, D/FW Intl. Airport’s Terminal D has become the welcoming beacon it was meant to be. “It’s incredible to see it now, alive and operating,” says HKS’ Lee, who was involved with the project from its onset. “When I travel and land at Terminal D, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve come home.”

Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]) is editorial director at Buildings magazine

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: “The challenges that the complete team faced almost daily during the completion of this project demonstrate the team’s commitment to great customer service - something that all construction-related professionals should strive for. The project balances the use of good design principles with energy efficiency to produce a building that addresses its geographic location. As an airport goes, it combines all the best qualities and minimizes the shortcomings by creating a space for the traveler and yet maintaining a quiet sense of style.”

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