As part of a joint venture effort with Duckett Design Group known as Atlanta Gateway Designers (AGD), GS&P was selected to provide architecture and engineering services for the new $1.4 billion, five-level, 12-gate, 1.2 million-square-foot international terminal and connecting Concourse F. The team’s scope of work would also include a 1,300-space parking garage, a comprehensive wayfinding and signage program, and an extension of the underground connector tunnel to the new terminal and concourse.
“The City of Atlanta Department of Aviation desired a new international terminal that would serve as a timeless gateway to Atlanta and to the world,” says Al Pramuk, GS&P’s director of aviation. “GS&P has had an on-call contract with the City of Atlanta since 2003, and we were assigned to the international terminal project as a part of the joint venture with AGD in the fall of 2006.”
“The airport had an existing 28-gate international complex, and the goal was to expand that into a 40-gate complex, with the new international terminal serving as a second front door to the airport,” explains Jay Wohlgemuth, GS&P’s director of terminal programming and senior project manager. “We were tasked with designing the terminal as a stand-alone station that connected to the existing infrastructure of ATL via the same underground connector system.”
A gateway to approximately 80 international destinations in 50 countries, and more than 150 U.S. cities, the new international passenger terminal would include: 12 gates on the new Concourse F; separate levels for arrivals and departures; a new elevated roadway network; seven security checkpoint lanes for international departing passengers and six security recheck lanes for domestic connecting passengers; an inline baggage screening system; a new U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspection station; 85 ticketing counters; and 65 self-serve check-in kiosks.
In addition to connecting the new facility with the existing international terminal and Concourse E, key project goals encompassed: eliminating the baggage recheck process for Atlanta-bound international travelers; providing clear and simplified wayfinding; designing the building to meet LEED Silver requirements; keeping systems and services fully functional during construction; and producing the design in multiple packages on a fast-track schedule, and on a very tight budget.
Making a Vital Connection
Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of the $1.4 billion project was connecting the new terminal/Concourse F to the existing Concourse E via an extension of the airport’s underground connector tunnel system (which houses ATL’s automated people mover known as the Plane Train). To be constructed more than 40 feet below an extremely active area of the airport, the design team had to exercise the utmost caution.
“There was a considerable amount of tunnel beneath the existing terminal, a section of Concourse E and the airfield,” explains David Chesak, GS&P’s senior structural engineer, “so connecting the two concourses was an incredibly complex process. When you’re excavating with that amount of material under an existing concourse structure—and you have the weight of the aircraft that are parked right next to where you’re excavating—it requires an intensely coordinated effort to avoid compromising the existing structure. It meant many sleepless nights for the structural engineers, who were using extremely sensitive monitoring equipment to check for any movement of the building.
“Because of the fragile nature of the operation, parts of the tunnel had to be hand-excavated. This was critical in terms of the temporary bracing that was put in until permanent retaining walls and other structures could be poured and hardened. It was also an exceptionally tight area, and we had to move a lot of material without jeopardizing the existing structure.”
Throughout this often daunting phase of the project, Concourse E remained fully functional, and existing services—such as lighting, communications, glycol, fuel, power and water—were maintained.
Intuitive Wayfinding and Landmark Spaces
In an effort to ease congestion and achieve clear and simplified wayfinding, the design team developed a comprehensive signage and wayfinding program that included main entry identification, roadway, parking garage, curbside and terminal areas.
“One of our primary goals was to ensure that circulation and wayfinding were very intuitive so that arriving, departing and connecting travelers have a good sense of where they are, which is extremely helpful for first-time travelers who are often overwhelmed and stressed,” says Jim Harding, GS&P’s director of environmental graphics.
Inside the ticketing hall, ticketing counters are aligned at a 45-degree angle to force traffic flow in the direction of the security checkpoint. The sculptural flow of the building’s floor and ceiling patterns also helps move passengers in the right direction. “It’s all very instinctive,” says Harding, “because you’re naturally moving in a consistent direction without making a lot of turns.”
Once international passengers have cleared security, they enter into the new terminal’s two-story transition hall, located on both the departures and mezzanine level and adjacent to the international atrium area.
“The transition hall is the lynchpin for passenger traffic, as two-thirds of departing traffic will be going to another concourse from there,” explains Harding. “The wayfinding is extremely intuitive in this bright, multistory space. You can even see out to the connecting Concourse E through an enormous window, which gives you a visual perspective of where you’re going if you happen to be departing from an E gate.”
A second major gathering place for departing passengers is the mezzanine level’s airside court, which can be easily accessed from the departure level.
“Because this is an international terminal, there was a strong emphasis placed on concessions,” says Harding, “and the mezzanine level—with its food and beverage concessions and VIP airline clubs—makes the perfect ‘meet-me-at’ point for departing passengers. Because there are clear sight lines to both floors, it’s extremely easy to communicate visually from the departure area below.”
Maximizing the Passenger Experience
Located directly below the airport’s apron/ramp level, the new terminal’s arrivals level includes a pedestrian connector tunnel to Concourse E, federal inspections services, passport control, customs, baggage carousels and an arrivals curb.
“Our first priority with arriving international passengers—who are typically exhausted—was to quickly get them through customs and on to their destination,” says Julia Bradley Rayfield, GS&P’s director of terminal interiors.
“We introduced design elements into these secure passenger corridors that make travelers feel like they’re actually in a daylit space. It’s all about moving people quickly, efficiently and comfortably into the customs hall, which is a multistory, grand arrival hall, and the first space that passengers experience.”
Further streamlining flow and providing a higher level of convenience to international passengers, the design of the new terminal separates connecting and destination travelers, eliminating the requirement for Atlanta-bound international travelers to recheck their luggage after clearing customs.
“Under the old system, when Atlanta-bound international passengers entered Concourse E, they would collect their bags, go through customs and then recheck their luggage to be routed to the main terminal’s baggage claim area,” explains Rayfield. “This was necessary to keep large baggage off the passenger trains. The new terminal completely eliminates that step. Once a passenger clears CBP, they can claim their bags and then simply proceed to the exit. This is a huge improvement for Atlanta-bound international passengers.”
A Timeless Gateway with Room to Grow
To create a new and lasting entryway to the city of Atlanta, the team approached the design of the international terminal from the passenger’s perspective. This is especially evident on the departures level where curbside passengers can see through the building’s soaring glass walls to the airfield. In addition to providing a bird’s eye view of the taxiway, the expansive glazing allows natural light to pour into the terminal, making its interior spaces bright and airy.
The terminal’s interior palette, anchored by neutral tans and greys with accents of honey, dark blue and red (reminiscent of Georgia red clay), is designed to remain contemporary and withstand the heavy traffic volumes that come with being the world’s busiest airport.
“Significant thought was put into selecting the most durable and sustainable, yet timeless and aesthetically desirable materials,” explains Wilson Rayfield, GS&P’s director of terminal architecture. “Since color trends can date a facility very quickly, we used a timeless, neutral palette as both a wayfinding element and a way to designate areas of prominence.”
Creating a pleasant and memorable environment for passengers, the new terminal’s fluid design represents the natural path of travel, which is evidenced in its sleek, curved exterior. This distinctive design note is carried over into the gentle ceiling curves in the airport’s departure and arrival levels, and is featured in other areas of the facility as well.
Along with creating a timeless gateway to the city, the team designed the new terminal to accommodate future expansion to support anticipated passenger demand.
“ATL uses two key milestones to assess the capacity of the overall airport,” says Rayfield. “The first milestone is 121-million annual passengers, which the new facility was designed to meet annually. Depending on the growth of air service in Atlanta, that could probably sustain ATL over the next 15- to 20-year planning period. The next milestone is 153-million annual passengers. When we were designing the new terminal complex, we knew it could be expanded to the east with Concourse G. So even though it’s a stand-alone terminal, it’s designed to support future growth beyond the 20-year planning period.”
Working closely with the City of Atlanta, the Department of Aviation and a multitude of stakeholders, the joint venture team identified a number of primary elements to be incorporated into the new international facility. Among these key design drivers was placing a strong emphasis on environmental consciousness and sustainability.
“The client’s program for the new terminal required that all new construction pursue LEED Silver certification,” says Wohlgemuth, “and that was an important factor in the design and construction because it gave us a baseline that was understood by all stakeholders.”
With this pivotal baseline established, the team moved forward with the mission to create a truly eco-friendly facility.
Since lighting can account for up to half of a building’s energy usage, the design team utilized large windows and skylights on the terminal’s upper floors, helping lower electricity costs for high-bay lighting areas, reducing heat buildup from light fixtures, and creating a more welcoming and relaxing environment.
Reducing the building’s environmental impact on the surrounding groundwater, a 25,000-cubic-foot cistern (that collects rainwater from the terminal roof and cleanses it through a series of filters before releasing it back into the environment) achieved LEED credits for both stormwater management quality and quantity control. Low-flow fixtures, sensor-operated, self-regulating lavatory faucets and waterless urinals also added to the facility’s sustainability by reducing water usage by more than 50 percent.
Despite the requirement to pursue LEED Silver, the design team ultimately surpassed that goal and helped ATL achieve LEED Gold certification for its new terminal, with an estimated reduction in energy consumption of more than 14 percent from a baseline building.
Open, functional, efficient and environmentally conscious, the new Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal serves as Atlanta’s new front door to the world, and offers a new dedicated terminal for international travelers that will maximize the passenger experience for years to come. The project was completed on time thanks to a fast-tracked schedule that was divided into multiple delivery packages. Staying on budget proved to be an even greater achievement after funding was reduced by $400 million mid-design due to changing economic conditions.
“We worked tirelessly to complete more than 170 changes to the design and meet the new reduced budget without decreasing square footage or extending the construction schedule,” says Wohlgemuth. “More than 80 percent of the design was completed when the budget was reduced, and even though there was a strong focus on cost control, we didn’t allow our design to suffer.”
“The opening of the Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal is a major milestone for Hartsfield-Jackson airport and the city of Atlanta,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announcing the new facility’s opening. “The international terminal will strengthen Atlanta’s position as the capital of the Southeast and a vital global gateway to the United States.”