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On November 19, 2015, the Denver International Airport Westin Hotel, open-air plaza and transit center opened to guests, providing an entirely new type of travel experience for passengers. Passenger Terminal World speaks to Kap Malik, design director at Gensler, the lead architects on the project, about how the complex will transform the airport’s landscape

Left: View of the DEN Hotel & Transit Center from the south

How will the new facilities impact traffic and services at the airport?

The new facilities comprise three key elements: an open-air plaza, a public transit center and the new Westin Hotel & Conference Center at Denver International Airport (DEN). All are seamlessly integrated horizontally and vertically, creating a unifying experience that connects to the existing Jeppesen Terminal. People will be able to walk directly from one element to the next, enhancing the passenger and guest experience.

When the Regional Transportation District’s commuter rail opens in April 2016, we anticipate reduced automobile traffic at the airport. People will enjoy the ability to zip from the city to airport by rail. People will be able come to the airport by boarding the train at seven different stops along the rail line, consequently impacting the urban fabric of Denver at large. It’s going to be a fun, reliable way to get from the city to airport in 37 minutes. Bus connections will also be improved by the new public transit center, a key component of the project.

As for services, airport hotels have long been seen as a place to spend the night during a tight layover or a flight cancellation. The Westin Denver International Airport, a signature component of the newly expanded DEN Hotel and Transit Center, is a great example of a comprehensive experience that modern travelers both need and value.

For travelers, this means that the airport, hotel, conference center and transit center are all in complete harmony; the entire journey is seamless, easily navigable and unique to Denver. As travelers pass through the terminal, they are literally transformed from airplane passenger to hotel guest. They flow easily from the hectic flight experience to a more relaxing, leisurely environment that expresses the spirit of Denver, all at the airport.

Right: The pre-function space at the conference center includes dramatic views overlooking trains arriving and departing the transit station

What is the inspiration behind the design of the hotel, plaza and

transit center?

This single, integrated building is

located perpendicular to Jeppesen Terminal to maximize hotel and plaza patrons’ views of the Rocky Mountains, downtown Denver and the Great Plains. The structure is anchored by a precast sandstone plinth housing a train hall, two-story conference center and airport security processing. The hotel rises up from the plinth, and the hotel roof dips at the center to form a ‘saddle’ that preserves the vista of the Jeppesen Terminal’s iconic roofline and frames the public plaza.

The design captures the essence of the region and provides visitors to the Mile High City with a sense of place. The transit center’s swooping steel and glass form is inspired by the city of Denver, the surrounding natural environment and the iconic design of the DEN Jeppesen terminal. Its grid shell canopies reflect the sculpted landscape, creating an inviting arrival experience through the use of natural light and expansive space flowing into the hotel lobby and plaza. In the plaza, residents and travelers can experience the local culture through concerts, sporting events, farmers’ markets, and other events programmed throughout the year. It will be a truly memorable experience.

Another crucial design concept was connecting people to place. The concept of connection is seen throughout, in details such as extending the grid of the Public Transit Center’s grid shell canopy into the interior ceiling of the hotel lobby.

Views from the lobby, conference center and future security hall provide travelers with an intuitive sense of where they are in relationship to the public transit center, hotel, plaza and terminal. For example, from the hotel lobby, travelers can not only watch trains arriving and departing from the train station below, but can also connect to the art beyond.

How have you created a sense of place in the hotel and plaza design, and how does this fit with in with the airport terminal design?

The design redefines the entire concept of the airport hotel, providing an immediate sense of place, a seamless travel experience and world-class amenities that even the savviest of travelers will admire.

The open-air plaza, which connects the hotel and transit center to the airport terminal, will be the next great public space for travelers and locals. It will include alfresco seating for a restaurant, bar and coffee shop. The restaurant design employs the concepts of Denver neighborhoods and common paths between them, which create juncture points for gathering and community. The finishes are more urban and industrial yet elegant and fresh. Angled ceiling plans embossed with a city map and neighborhoods and streets highlighted on glass panels point to the connectivity of the Westin DEN with downtown Denver and create a place to enjoy the events at the plaza.

The pool and fitness center are on the 11th level of the hotel, in the saddle of the roofline. Their design is highlights the expansive views both south toward the open plains and north toward the Jeppesen Terminal and mountain range beyond.

The concept in this space is based on the idea of movement, as is the entire interior design; however at this level it’s a slower, more peaceful movement – the air, clouds and the idea of ‘breathe’. The finishes are glass which embraces the views, stone with horizontal veining indicative of the strata of the earth, and clean tile finishes that together create a spa-like serenity. The hotel connects to its place and integrates with the existing terminal with grace and harmony.

Left: The 68,000ft² plaza forms the civic heart of the project – a venue for public events that is equally accessible to air travelers and the community

Why did you decide to include an open air plaza – how will this impact the passenger experience?

We see the new open-air plaza as the civic heart of the airport – a venue for public events that is equally accessible to air travelers and the community. The plaza will host a multitude of events such as three-on-three basketball tournaments, festivals and concerts, and it is designed to be an outdoor gathering place that draws people in by offering unexpected and fun things to do, as an extension of the city.

This gathering place gets added prominence from the signature design element of the complex: a dramatic 150ft-long canopy that cantilevers beyond the plaza and allows the guest to move back and forth, protected from rain or snow. The canopy is also designed with a state-of-the-art sound system to hold concerts on the plaza below. The transit center canopy, on the south side of the building, creates a grand sense of arrival and immediately connects arriving guests to the conference center and the future ticketing hall in the transit center. People will also have a clear view to the hotel lobby and the hotel rooms above.

There is complete harmony between art and architecture in the entire complex. The plaza features a spectacular kinetic art installation, ‘Field of Air’ by California artist Ned Kahn. The piece was inspired by the way the grasses of the plains expose the invisible force of the wind, and will delight travelers unwinding in the plaza’s alfresco restaurants or even hotel guests looking down upon the art from the comfort of their private rooms.

What challenges did you face during this project and how did you overcome these?

As part of the entitlements for the project, we had to maintain the view corridor to the iconic tents of DIA’s existing Jeppesen Terminal. That was really important to the airport, and clearly vital to people who appreciate the architecture of the original airport.

To do that, we studied many different design options ranging from towers to linear forms. Through intense design exploration, we realized that the scheme you see being constructed today – a horizontal bar form – would be the most efficient design solution, both functionally and operationally. It would also create a new gateway to the airport. The elegant form of the building – its signature ‘dip’ – is both beautiful and functional. It respects the view corridor, preserving views of the Jeppesen’s tent structures for people driving up to the terminal. This design solution seamlessly integrates all components of the project.

Achieving this seamless integration, though, was the greatest challenge, but it is also the key to the project’s ultimate success. Combining a train station, bus station, airport, hotel, conference center and public plaza, all in a way that feels intuitive and natural – that was our great opportunity in this project.

The project is part of a 30-year master plan for DEN. The terminal had to accommodate the future expansion of APM, baggage and other airport systems, while the project was programmatically driven and constrained by existing height limits enforced by FAA regulations and radar restrictions.

The program for the hotel is based on a minimum of 500 rooms and to accommodate the required program for these rooms, the building leans out over the level 5 roadway. The project also ties in with the existing airport systems. Level four and level five roadways were moved from ground level to elevated bridges in order to facilitate both construction and future flexibility, and traffic had to be rerouted to keep the airport operational during construction.

All images courtesy of Denver International Airport

About Kap Malik

Kap Malik, FAIA is design director and principal at Gensler. In more than 20 years with the firm, Malik has led the design of some of its most recognized projects, from international airports to world-class hotels and high-rise buildings. Malik promotes idea-driven, experiential design that is contextual and appropriate.

His recent projects include the award-winning Shore Hotel in Santa Monica, California, the new Grand Hyatt Incheon in South Korea, and the South Terminal Westin Hotel and Transit Center at Denver International Airport in Colorado.

Malik’s work has been published widely and has received prominent recognition, including the ULI Global Award for Excellence for the 55-story Ritz-Carlton Hotel & Residences Tower and JW Marriott at L.A. LIVE, in Los Angeles, California.

Malik earned a Bachelor of Science in Architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Last updated: November 19, 2015

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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 magazines Passenger Terminal World and Postal and Parcel Technology International and their websites. Away from the office, you will find her struggling along the pavements of Surrey as she trains for the Great South Run, blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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