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AIRPORT DESIGN Last modified on March 26, 2011

Tomorrow's terminals

San Francisco’s T2 is an example of terminal design that is based on sustainable principles, inspired by local culture and geography, writes Gensler’s Bill Hooper Jr and Keith Thompson.

When San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 2 (SFO T2) re-opens its gates in April 2011, it will be the first LEED Gold-registered terminal in the United States – a significant accomplishment in the area of sustainable airport design.

However, LEED certification was never the sole objective in redesigning T2, it was rather an opportunity to re-think 21st century air travel and to determine how a sustainable terminal could enhance passengers’ airport experience.

This approach to sustainability is focused on fostering a memorable and location-specific travel experience that balances the needs of building performance with passenger delight.

SFO T2: a passenger-centric terminal
Skylights and clerestories are a vital part of SFO T2’s design, streaming sunlight into the ticketing lobby and retail areas and significantly reducing electricity use, while maintaining passengers’ sense of place and time. Hydration stations are prominently located at the centre of the concourse, enabling passengers to fill reusable bottles. Bright two-story spaces filled with natural light and hanging cloud sculptures help to orient passengers to their location.

SFO T2’s design also alleviates many of the stresses commonly associated with 21st century air travel. Unlike older terminals, which have not been modified to address changes in security requirements since 2011, SFO T2’s pre-security receptacles clearly inform passengers about prohibited items and provide appropriate recycling and composting bins.

Expansive, naturally-lit spaces guide passengers at key decisionmaking points, making the terminal easy to navigate. Rather than just a few benches and chairs, an area that Gensler calls ‘Recompose,’ located just past security, offers a place to re-dress upon completing TSA screening. Laptop plug-in stations, elevated work counters and free wireless are available for business travellers, while play areas are designated for children.

While all of these design elements improve the traveller experience, SFO T2 is also designed to significantly reduce operating costs.

Improvements to the mechanical system, the ventilation system and the lighting will allow the terminal to run on 15% less energy. This will reduce operational costs by approximately $170,000 a year. An innovative displacement ventilation system uses filtered air to improve indoor air quality and requires 20% less energy than many other systems. A dual plumbing system that supplies toilets and urinals with reclaimed water from SFO’s Mel Leong Treatment Plant has also been used and the terminal’s plumbing fixtures are 40% more efficient than typical fixtures.

Local San Francisco culture
Sustainability in design also implies an intrinsic connection with the surrounding culture, so unique elements from San Francisco culture have been incorporated into SFO T2. Local organic food vendors are situated throughout the terminal, allowing passengers to sample authentic, locally grown San Francisco cuisine. The vendors will also participate in a recycling and composting programme that is aimed at significantlyreducing the airport’s waste generation. In addition, SFO is the only US airport that’s also an accredited museum, and SFO T2 includes art installations that draw inspiration from the Bay Area’s dramatic weather patterns. These various elements capture San Francisco residents’ value of sustainability and express the Bay Area’s character.

International approach
Genlser has used the approach that is showcased at SFO T2 in other terminal designs around the world, showing its ability to be translated in various environments and cultures.

In India, Chennai International Airport’s Kamraj Domestic Terminal and Anna International Terminal were both designed by Gensler in conjunction with Frederic Schwartz Architects and Creative Group. These two terminals, which total 1.3 million gross-square-feet (gsf), incorporate aspects from the Tamil Nadu region’s rich culture and leverage the surrounding area’s natural resources to increase overall sustainability.

Due for completion in October 2011, Chennai will be the largest airport run by the state Airports Authority of India (AAI), showing that airports of all sizes can be sustainable and locally focused.

In Chennai, the terminals’ layouts reflect design motifs that originated in some of the iconic temples in the surrounding region. They are intuitively laid out and illuminated with natural light, which streams through expansive glass curtain walls thanks to a column-free design.

Lush tropical gardens between the pre- and post-security areas reference the Indian use of interior courtyards and regional landscapes.

These gardens are visible to passengers as they pass through security, as well as from waiting areas and concessions in the post-security area.

These gardens create a relaxing environment and expose passengers to the verdant region’s flora.

Chennai’s natural resources and conditions were also used throughout the design to enhance sustainability. The terminal roofs are designed to capture rainwater and channel it into underground cisterns where it can be stored for later use. Access to potable water is a critical issue for the region’s inhabitants. Chennai relies on monsoon rains to replenish its water table, and creating a system that captures rainwater is an advantage for the airport.

The future of sustainable design
SFO T2 and the terminals at Chennai International Airport demonstrate how sustainable terminal design can create iconic civic structures that function efficiently while simultaneously enhancing passengers’ travel experience.

Airports are at a turning point and the terminals of the future will have to go beyond even the latest approaches to sustainability and design. The proliferation of technology and new protocols, such as the Common Use Passenger Processing Systems (CUPPS), promise to dramatically affect every aspect of flying. Re-examining basic terminal design is the next step
to balancing building performance and passenger comfort.

The evolution of the typical passenger journey over the past decade has had major implications for terminal design. Technology now allows passengers to handle many aspects of the pre-flight process – such as checking in and tagging bags – before they arrive at the airport. Ticketing and departure halls have traditionally functioned as terminals’ grandest spaces, but designers must now consider whether it is sustainable and passenger friendly to allocate so much space and so many resources to an area where today’s travellers spend little time.

One way to address this is to invert the typical two-level terminal configuration, in which arrivals and baggage claim are stacked beneath a grandly scaled departure hall. In this scenario, the space devoted to airline agents and baggage check-in would be reduced by over 30%. The baggage claim area would move to the terminal’s upper level, increasing in size and evolving into a celebratory space where the airport’s city welcomes its visitors and residents rather than celebrating their departure.

This design scheme considers the new ways that passengers interact with airports and ensures resources are allocated to spaces where passengers are spending more of their journey. Passengers value airports that promote sustainable and passenger friendly practices, and airports recognise the financial and social value of terminals that conserve resources, reduce operating costs and enhance the passenger experience. Terminals will be the engine of change because they, more than any other structure, provide opportunities to
redefine the passenger experience.

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