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Sea-Tac Central Terminal

June 30, 2005

A new gateway for the Northwest

  • Wide-open views help create a sense of place
    Fentress Bradburn Architects

    Photo by James P. Scholz/Fentress Bradburn Architects
    Sea-Tac’s original 1949 art deco terminal inspired some of the design choices in the new Central Terminal, including the fan-shaped ceiling and the 350-foot glass wall.

    The 30 million passengers that make their way through Sea-Tac's Central Terminal this year will experience the fruition of seven years of architectural design and development aimed at bolstering the airport's position as an international gateway.

    When the Port of Seattle selected Fentress Bradburn Architects to design the Central Terminal redevelopment in 1998, it sought a terminal also that creates a central heart for the entire airport and respects its natural context — amidst the Olympic mountain range, forests and the Pacific Ocean.

    Restoring views

    A key design challenge was to bring back the days when air travelers could enjoy the pleasures of viewing the area's dramatic natural beauty and experience the excitement of the planes arriving and departing from the airfield.

    Air travelers were denied the pleasure of these views when, in 1962, security restrictions and renovations eliminated that capacity. Observation decks had until then been a major feature of the building, which was constructed in 1949.

    The west face of the Central Terminal, also called the Pacific Marketplace, is a 60-foot-tall, 350-foot-wide glass wall that curves bi-directionally — in both elevation and plan. In addition to being the largest glass wall of its kind in North America, it affords direct views to the airfield and the Olympic mountain range.

    With a site that dictated eastward expansion into the tarmac, the design team created a fan-shaped Pacific Marketplace instead of elongating the historical, trapezoid-shaped terminal. The roof steps up from the structure, gently rising and descending, creating an elegant form that complements the sinuous shapes of the glass wall.

    The 130,000-square-foot Pacific Marketplace succeeds through a combination of its extremely efficient layout, the 40,000 square feet of concessions that line its perimeter, and four giant flight information display monitors viewable from anywhere within the 500-seat indoor piazza. It is a place where visitors can shop, eat or simply relax while soaking up the natural daylight and dramatic views.

    Cues from the past

    Preserving some of the unique and historic design elements of the original 1949 terminal was one way Fentress Bradburn honored the airport's art deco heritage.

    Elevator doors are engraved with a design taken from old security pavilion glass. A custom frieze lines one of the halls and recalls terra-cotta molds from the 1949 terminal's doors. A terrazzo floor pattern lent by a compass design in an original building document marks the entrance to the security checkpoint.

    Throughout the interior of the terminal are expressions of the Pacific Northwest, incorporating features of Seattle architecture such as overhanging canopies, clerestory windows and natural stone construction.

    Custom light fixtures take the form of outdoor lamp posts, and varied storefronts help create the image of an urban downtown scene. Images of Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market come to mind when viewing the space.

    These design elements, respectful of the urban and natural landscape of the area, support an overall "sense of place" that makes for a comfortable, calm and easily navigated experience for travelers.

    The passenger experience

    Passengers enter the Pacific Marketplace after passing through a consolidated central security checkpoint.

    The high-capacity checkpoint replaces two smaller ones. Reasons for the change included aiding circulation, cutting down on the likelihood of a breach, and enhancing the ability to open additional security posts during peak periods.

    From the core of the Marketplace, passengers are oriented to pathways that branch left and right to speedily direct passengers to their gate on any one of the six concourses. If time allows, they may make use the Marketplace's amenities or journey down either of the shop-lined esplanades.

    Among the most important plans for the expansion were critically needed seismic upgrades. Since the 6.8-magnitude Nisqually earthquake in February 2001 that caused $4 million worth of damage to the airport's control tower, seismic upgrades have been an intricate component of all the airport's projects.

    Upgrades to the terminal have been coordinated with upgrades to the concourses, control tower and administration building because of their proximity to one another. The expanded terminal buttresses the administration building, and new concrete shear walls and steel bracing are integrated into both the terminal's existing structure and its new construction.

    A building truly representative of its status as an international gateway has emerged out of the resolve to create a Central Terminal that welcomes its visitors in an exciting, comfortable and convenient marketplace, while representing architecture that appropriately expresses its context — the natural beauty and unique urban community of Seattle-Tacoma.

    It stands strong with the other landmarks so often associated throughout the world with the America's Pacific Northwest.

    Curtis Worth Fentress, FAIA, has led the design of over 60 civic buildings and more than 50 airport projects since founding Fentress Bradburn Architects 25 years ago.

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