Clean slate

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Left: Gordon Huether’s canyon artwork guides passengers through the terminal

What do you do when your airport no longer meets building regulations and your traffic has grown by more than 100% since the facility was built? Knock it down and start again. Or at least that’s what the decision makers at Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) have decided to do.

Originally constructed in 1961 with a capacity of 10 million passengers per annum, SLC now handles 22 million travelers each year, which means that the airport is too small to provide the great passenger experience it strives for and the aging airport buildings no longer meet earthquake safety standards.

“In addition the airport is made up of 29 buildings connected together to form three terminals, which is not conducive to a smooth passenger experience,” explains Maureen Riley, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports. “We have experienced great growth in the past few years and are now handling 22 million passengers annually, so everything is undersized. We took all that into consideration in designing a new facility that can accommodate these additional passengers and is easily expandable for future demand.”

At a cost of US$1.8bn and with a phased construction program scheduled for completion in 2023 (the three-story terminal will open in 2020), the Salt Lake City International Airport Terminal Redevelopment Program (TRP) is one of the largest construction projects currently taking place in the USA, according to Gordon Huether, the artist working on the project.

Right: Rendering of the landside area showing the split arrivals and

departures levels

For Robert Chicas, director of aviation and transportation at HOK, the

principal-in-charge of the project, the biggest transformation of SLC is the centralization of operations. “The

current 29 buildings that make up the airport will be demolished or refurbished and replaced with a modern, expansive central terminal with dual level access, new parking and rental car facilities [see Project elements on page 17]. The airport will have one centralized security screening checkpoint and one meeter/greeter area so that the main activities are concentrated in one location, which will make for a much better passenger experience.”

The airport will reduce the number of gates from 85 to 72, but they will all be fitted with jet bridges (currently only 55 have this feature, the rest being boarded from the ramp), enabling the airport to better use its preferential gate system whereby any airline can use any gate. “New, larger gates will support Delta’s transition from 50-seat regional jets to larger two-cabin aircraft,” says Shane Jones, vice president of corporate real estate at Delta Air Lines, the airport’s largest user.

Not only will the new terminal and its accompanying facilities improve the passenger experience, but it will also benefit the local community. In fact the airport’s latest economic impact study predicts that the redevelopment will create nearly 24,000 jobs, generate US$1bn in wages/income, add US$1.5bn to the state’s GDP and create US$3.3bn in total economic output.

Left: Airside view of The Plaza with views of the city’s mountain range

Catering to the local community

Utah is well known for its large Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) community (62% of the state’s population are members of the church) and this was a consideration for the airport and architect when designing the facility. “We call it the Salt Lake Phenomenon, whereby we have a very large meeter/greeter contingent who arrive at the airport to meet their returning loved ones who have been off on LDS missions for two years, and we’ve tried to accommodate that in the design of the new terminal,” says Riley.

The airport has created a dedicated family room adjacent to the security exit that will allow family and friends to reconnect with their returning LDS missionaries. “This was a key part of the design,” says lead architect Matt Needham, senior aviation and transportation planner at HOK, “and we have actually included a real fireplace using stone from the local quarry to make this room as comfortable and welcoming as possible for those who haven’t seen their loved ones in years.”

But it’s not just the meeters and greeters that had to be accommodated; there were considerations in the concessions area to meet LDS rules. Chicas comments, “SLC historically had very strict rules about where alcohol could be sold and, while it’s not quite as rigorous as it used to be, there are some policies that we need to respect, so we have designed zones where alcohol can be consumed at the concession where it is bought.”

Right: The single, three-level terminal building, gateway center and parking garage

Reducing the footprint

In line with modern building standards, SLC’s new terminal pays great attention to reducing its carbon footprint and is being built to LEED Gold standard.

“LEED Silver is a Salt Lake City mandate, but we hope to achieve Gold standard through a number of design strategies,” explains Needham. “The floor-to-ceiling glazing occurs mainly on the north side, as we’re being very site-sensitive to our orientation and our fundamental design, and then we’re adding all the elements of technology we can such as daylight harvesting, LED fixtures, a very efficient central plant mechanical system, and an efficient baggage system whereby the motors are stop/start and don’t run continuously. We’ve taken a very considered approach to every project component in terms of energy saving and it has helped us to be on track with LEED Gold.”

The centralization of operations has also helped reduce energy use while improving the passenger journey, as there are fewer level changes and a reduced number of elevators and escalators.

“We wanted to make this facility easier for the passengers, and the airport really drove this – they wanted to make SLC an easy transport hub,” Needham says. The terminal will have three levels. Level 1 will feature passenger pick-up and drop-off, international baggage claim, employee security screening and baggage handling areas; Level 2 will feature pedestrian bridges connecting to the parking terrace and the roadway system, and access to the concourses and retail areas; and Level 3 will provide space for airport administration offices, airline ticketing and check-in counters.

“Level 2 houses almost everything – a huge percentage of passengers are transfer and they all transfer on this level,” Needham continues. “For the O&D passengers we looked at how we can make passenger movement simpler. For example, if you’re arriving at Salt Lake City and want a rental car to get to your ski resort, you can come through the exit portal at security, go to baggage claim, walk across the bridge, and get to your car without going through a single level change.

“Light rail will also connect to that gateway center and there will be full check-in facilities so that departing passengers can arrive, check in and drop luggage, walk across the bridge and go through security all on the same level.

Left: The 80ft escalator well sculpture by Gordon Huether uses dichroic glass

“The pedestrian bridges at Level 2 will take more than 50% of departing passengers to the terminal and over 60% of arriving passengers to the parking garage, rental cars or light rail. This enables us to reduce the number of escalators and elevators, simplifying the passenger journey while reducing the number of mechanical parts and reducing energy use.”

Over a period of years the airlines will also convert their ground equipment to electrically charged vehicles. “The new central utility plant will enable us to transition electric baggage tugs and associated ground service equipment to zero-emissions vehicles,” explains Delta’s Jones.

Flexible future

Technology plays an important role in the passenger journey and this was a key consideration for HOK when designing the check-in and security areas. In the centralized security checkpoint, HOK worked closely with the TSA to develop a flexible design for the paired x-ray lanes. “We’ve not only provided 30ft bays for every lane pair, but we’ve also provided ample room for expansion and have made this area as flexible as possible, knowing that security requirements will change over time,” explains Needham.

Another benefit of the centralized checkpoint is that the airport will be able to provide early messaging to passengers to let them know how long it will take them to pass though security so that they can better plan their journey. Retail and food and beverage will also be centralized, although final decisions about the layout and concessionaires will be decided once the final designs are completed in mid-2016.

Challenges and cooperation

Salt Lake City’s location proved to be one of the biggest architectural challenges for HOK, which had to make sure its design could withstand the earthquakes common in the region. Needham says, “The airport is located in an alluvial zone [lake bed sediments]with a high water table, so in addition to a lot of lateral bracing and piers [to enable the building to withstand seismic tremors], we had to do a lot of ground improvement throughout the facility. For the garage itself we had to install subsurface stone columns to assist the facility to withstand earthquake loads and still be usable even if damaged.”

Another challenge was building on an active airport site, ensuring that operations were not affected. The airport overcame this by phasing the construction process.

To ensure the success of the project, Riley encouraged full collaboration between the airport, architect, artist and airlines. “The TRP is one of the very few airport projects of this magnitude in the USA that did not receive a protest from the airlines,” she says. “We worked very closely with Delta and the other airlines at SLC over a couple of years to bring them to the table and discuss the right solution. During that time we discussed whether a renovation would be enough or if we had to demolish everything and start over. We all sat around the table and collaborated on those analyses to arrive at the right decision for everyone at SLC, and I hope this will create a better end result.”

Article by Hazel King originally published in the March issue of Passenger Terminal World

March 9, 2016

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Kirstie joined the team in early 2017 and brings writing, communications and client experience with her. Now an assistant editor, she produces content for our magazines and websites. Away from the office, you will find her blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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