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South Terminal

June 10, 2004

Travelers can take comfort in new concourse

  • Designers use art, light and amenities to ease the stress of travel

    office building
    Photo by Sky-Pix
    A five-story office building crowns the arrivals hall, the centerpiece of Sea-Tac Airport's $586 million South Terminal expansion. The new 14-gate Concourse A is shown in the foreground.

    After six years of design and construction, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's $586 million South Terminal expansion project (STEP) represents one of the last possible major expansions of the existing terminal.

    The 880,000-square-foot project, designed to accommodate demand through 2015, includes new ticketing and baggage claim areas, a five-story office tower for airport administration, and a 14-gate concourse for international and domestic flights.

    The project also fulfills a critical design goal to redefine Sea-Tac's image as an international gateway, serving to enhance the experiences of those who use the airport.

    The living room

    The centerpiece of NBBJ's design is the new meeter/greeter South Hall — the airport's new “living room” — featuring a 70-foot-tall curtain wall oriented toward Mount Rainier, emphasizing daylight and Pacific Northwest views.

    Placed at the north end of the terminal expansion, the South Hall provides a prominent focal point with a dramatic spatial presence that welcomes arriving passengers.

    In addition to giving Sea-Tac a major public space, the South Hall is intended for community events and celebrations. Its elliptical shape, generous dimensions, careful detailing, integrated art program and memorable design will make it a new regional landmark.

    The effects of 9/11 on the design of airport facilities are on display in this project.

    The challenges of developing more secure facilities forced designers to address questions that go beyond the realm of security and practicality. In addition to building-component issues, such as reconfiguring baggage systems and increasing security checkpoints, NBBJ and the Port of Seattle addressed the need to bring comfort and pleasure back to the passenger experience.

    This project shows how an airport can become a positive force in the consciousness of its community by establishing itself as a place rooted in a regional identity.

    Less stress for travelers

    Prior to 9/11, the Port of Seattle was already keenly aware that facility shortcomings contribute to the stress and frustration commonly experienced by air travelers. Accordingly, the Port and NBBJ approached STEP as an opportunity to enhance passenger comfort and to create a place of self-definition for the region.

    The design team avoided literal interpretations of the Pacific Northwest, and instead expressed the local character in subtle and poetic ways, giving the arrivals and departures sequences their own distinctive traits. A regional expression will welcome arriving passengers, while forms and materials with a more universal language will usher departing passengers to new destinations.

    The single-loaded planning of the 2,100-foot-long Concourse A provided an opportunity to highlight the dual departure/arrival perspective with different architectural characters for airside and landside facades.

    For departures, a single row of splayed columns emphasize upward movement, a concept reinforced by a butterfly-shaped ceiling opening to the airside canted curtain wall. This approach directs views to the skies and reveals the expanse of the airfield. Its uninterrupted span of nearly half a mile of windows connects passengers to the magic of air travel.

    Landside, the Concourse A arrivals sequence directs passengers to the South Hall at the ticketing level, where they can take escalators down to the baggage-claim area.

    A curved art-laden wall leads them onward and gradually reveals the South Hall's grand space beyond — gently introducing travelers to the hall's dappled light, reminiscent of a walk through a Pacific Northwest forest. Framed bay-by-bay between truss-pilasters, the 70-foot curtain wall focuses the magnificent territorial vista of the Cascade Mountains.

    Wayfinding is enhanced by the prevalent use of natural light, which allows travelers to see their surroundings clearly and readily locate the gates, concessions and amenities.

    Other wayfinding features include the security checkpoint, which is positioned at a major intersection to make orientation pre- and post-security a simple matter. Once on Concourse A, passengers are never more than 300 feet from the nearest services or amenities, despite the structure's vastness.

    The concourse has three sections, with nodes containing services, concessions and passenger amenities in each. At the service nodes the butterfly section of ceiling is modified to create a double-height volume, creating an open and uninterrupted space that streamlines navigation.

    Airport office building

    office building
    Photo by Jon Silver
    The Port of Seattle’s new office building sits above the terminal. Its curtain wall system uses green vision glass and metal panels.

    The Port of Seattle office building emerges from the South Hall as a clear acknowledgement that administration is part of the interrelated functions at airports.

    In keeping with the project's theme of openness and visibility, the five-story office is distinguished by a curtain wall system made of green vision glass and metal panels, and includes a conference center mezzanine and a roof deck for employees. Right in the middle of terminal operations, the office tower provides dramatic views of the airfield, airfield operations and the Cascade and Olympic mountains.

    The STEP art program allocated 1 percent of the original construction budget for commissioned art installations. Several installations are space-defining, while commissioned pieces are architecturally integrated to reinforce and enhance certain design subtleties.

    They include a series of nine columns with glass mosaic designs located past the security checkpoint, a kinetic sound sculpture next to a moving sidewalk, a major sculptural installation under a massive skylight at a concourse transition, and the largest painted glass window in North America, which marks the end of Concourse A.

    Northwest modernity

    Though the Pacific Northwest is captivating in its natural beauty, the region is also a major metropolitan area, home to trailblazing corporate and technological companies.

    The sleek exposed steel structure of the South Hall and its tall curtain wall reference the modernity of this region.

    Geometric clarity, economy, and scale are the driving forces to realize these goals in the South Hall design, a place of welcome, of embraces and handshakes, and of introduction and reunion, all creating a congenial setting for human encounters.

    J. Lee Glenn is a principal at NBBJ.

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