In terms of design leadership, Sunday, October 30, was a landmark day for Canada, as it marked the opening of Winnipeg James Richardson International Airport’s new eco-friendly terminal.
It was a milestone event for Winnipeg because, in addition to the fact that the new $585 million terminal is expected to transform operational efficiency and customer service levels at the gateway, it will become Canada’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified terminal.
Despite the capital city of Manitoba province being in a part of Canada that is known for its sustainable mindset, Winnipeg Airport Authority (WAA) CEO, Barry Rempel, insists that creating a showpiece ‘green’ facility was never the driving force behind its development.
“The decision to design and build a sustainable facility didn’t arise from an evangelical, at-all-costs commitment to the environment,” explains Rempel. “It really had more to with our mission to provide excellent airport services and facilities in a fiscally prudent manner.
“In the circumstances, sustainable design turned out just to make really good business sense. Whenever we came to forks in the road, it was easier to step in the direction of sustainability.”
The desire to sustainable, however, wasn’t lost on the lead architects responsible for designing the new terminal – Stantec Architecture and Pelli Clarke Pelli – or a host of sub-contractors working on their behalf, which included SMS Engineering and Crosier Kilgour & Partners Ltd.
“The WAA was willing to be leaders in sustainability in the airport world,” notes Stanis Smith, senior vice president at Stantec Architecture, but not without the discipline of measurement.
“You can’t get into this sort of thing without measuring what you’re doing and really the only effective way was by registering as a LEED building,” says Rempel, who adds that only a handful of airport terminals in North America have such an honour.
“I think the designers have done an awesome job in incorporating sustainable features in such a way that the average customer isn’t going to stand there and say, oh, that’s a sustainability feature,” remarks Rempel.
“It is sustainability designed to be integrated with the building that actually makes it outstanding.”
To illustrate: arguably one of the terminal’s most impactful ‘green’ features is, in fact, invisible. Over 10,000sqm of glare-free glass envelops the building, strategically supplemented with roof overhangs and sunshades, allowing natural light to flood the building’s interior.
The terminal also features a displacement ventilation system, using totems located throughout to release warm air from the bottom in winter and cold air from the top in summer, and diffusers and slots hidden in the bulkheads as air returns. So, while the space is voluminous (11 metres high at its maximum), only the bottom three to five metres of vertical space enjoys conditioned air.
“That means you’re only heating and cooling the areas that people are actually in,” explains Smith, noting that this will dramatically reduce energy costs as compared to traditional top-down air conditioning systems.
More environmentally friendly features are hidden in the floor. As a south-facing building (in the northern hemisphere), the entry receives a tremendous amount of direct sunlight all year-round. To capitalise on this energy source, the sunlight heats the concrete floor, which contains a computer controlled radiant heat system that takes the heated water and moves it to parts of the building that are shaded, and therefore cooler.
A heat recovery system is also built into the terminal, using a condenser farm to redirect stored energy.
“This new, larger terminal building will actually cost less to heat than our older, smaller terminal,” beams Rempel.
So what of the visible aspects of design? “I think the passenger experience is going to be very memorable for people as they move through the building,” promises Smith, noting that departing passengers will be able to see all the way through the terminal to their aircraft at the gate.
“This is pretty unusual in an airport terminal,” asserts Smith. “Not only is that an attractive feature in itself, but it helps passengers with wayfinding.”
Airport CEO Rempel, agrees. “One of the first questions every traveller has on entering an airport is where do I go? Well, the fact that you can see where the aircraft are the minute you set foot inside the building provides an immediate answer.”
Smith is quick to point out that the “transparency and connectedness” of the building is somewhat ironic for Winnipeg, whose name comes from the Cree word for ‘muddy waters’.
In terms of operational facilities and capabilities, the 51,000sqm terminal boasts 11 boarding bridges and seven ground-loading gates that ensure it is initially capable of handling up 3.5mppa.
Technology has certainly changed the way people move through airports, specifically the expanded use of self-service kiosks, which have been widely adopted in the new 3.5mppa capacity terminal.
“The check-in hall in particular has been designed around the fact that more and more people are using self-service, resulting in a reduction in the space needed for check-in, and more space post-security where people spend most of their time,” explains Smith.
As home to the world’s first self-service gas station in 1949, Winnipeg is no stranger to innovation that puts more control in the hands of the consumer.
“You won’t see long queues in this building,” declares Rempel, adding that passengers can use any kiosk to check-in with any airline.
The Arrivals experience begins as soon as passengers step off the plane onto completely transparent glass loading bridges, giving them their first glimpses of the terminal and an immediate sense of where they need to go.
Passengers then move to a large, naturally lit atrium where all levels of the airport connect, allowing them to see and immediately understand the entire workings of the airport.
The atrium is also a reinterpretation of an arrivals experience in the old terminal, something the public – in response to a WAA-led marketing campaign entitled ‘I want my airport to be’ – had expressed strongly that they wanted to keep it.
Rempel says: “In Winnipeg, 1.5 million people per year come to the terminal to pick up or drop off people. That’s more than the entire population of the province of Manitoba, and more than twice the population of its capital, Winnipeg, so creating an appropriately ceremonial arrivals experience was of paramount importance.”
But the design wasn’t without its challenges. The space was so unique in its configuration that Canada’s security regulators were initially opposed to the concept.
“The atrium space builds on the conceptual thinking that we put in place when we designed the Ottawa terminal several years ago and takes it to the next level,” explains Smith.
Stantec was able to address Transport Canada’s concerns using precedent and a deep understanding of stakeholder requirements, and by maintaining the essence of that arrivals experience for passengers.
“We understand airports, we understand how people flow through airports and so as a result of that understanding, we’re able to design airports that are more intuitive and passenger-friendly,” says Smith.
An airport terminal that is friendly to passengers and friendly to the environment. Does it get any better than that?