Designing the Front Door to Our Region

The Pittsburgh International Airport’s New Terminal Modernization Program

By Maya Henry, COLUMNS editor Posted on May 30, 2019

Arrivals.  Rendering courtesy Allegheny County Airport Authority

Pittsburgh International Airport is undergoing a multi-year, $1.1 billion dollar modernization.  With construction to be completed by 2023, the design has been informed by a multi-year effort bringing stakeholders together to explore what designing a “world-class” facility really means to Pittsburgh.

The new terminal is inspired by the beauty, tech renaissance and people of the Pittsburgh region. It is meant to be iconic, practical and affordable while also being adaptable as technological and transportation needs change.

The necessity for a redesign comes as the airport transforms itself from a hub, appropriate for US Airways in the 1980s, to a destination-type airport.  The majority of travelers now originate from Pittsburgh, as opposed to passengers connecting to other destinations.

Technology has also changed how airport spaces are used: think of the vast ticketing lobby that is nearly vacant on most days as customers continue to shift to electronic boarding passes.  Additionally, as the need for security has increased, the infrastructure can’t support it, creating bottle-necks with no opportunity to expand.  In response, the new design provides opportunities for further expansion and contraction to adapt to technological and market changes.

The current tram system costs millions of dollars annually to maintain. In the new design, some simple changes in the siting have made the tram obsolete, while also reducing by 50% the time it takes for passengers to get from curbside to airside.

The design team is a joint venture of architectural and engineering firms Gensler and HDR, in association with luis vidal + architects.  Working with the Allegheny County Airport Authority, politicians and leaders have engaged designers to carefully consider how the new airport will act as a gateway to the region.

Very much like in 2004 when AIA Pittsburgh helped preserve the viewshed of the city seen when exiting the Fort Pitt tunnel, the new airport design also recognizes the importance of this gateway.

Architect Luis Vidal says the design is all about the “compression and expansion” of experiencing this view, while also taking into account Pittsburgh’s other assets: rolling hills, bridges, and its evolving role as a technology hub.

Approach.  Rendering courtesy Allegheny County Airport Authority

The new form of the airport is “more comfortable, more human,” says Vidal.  It embraces inspirational local assets and serves as a “natural front door to our region.”

This concept is carried all the way through to the landside terminal (everything past the curb once you exit the main terminal), with a design team led by Michael Baker International.  This could have been an afterthought, but instead takes on the design challenge of evoking Pittsburgh in a form: taking into account parking and mobility as well as recognizing it is the gateway to the terminal itself and drawing upon Pittsburgh’s natural features.

It all comes together under the umbrella of NATECO, a term Vidal and his team coined to signify the importance of nature, technology, and community, and how they have all come together to influence the design:

The terminal design team is taking inspiration from western Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, rivers, and parks with landscape contours reflected in the structure and façade of the building.

The region’s new economic energy and tech renaissance is giving rise to innovation in passenger flow and building systems for a more modern, adaptable facility and improved user experience.

A proud history, along with a new shared vision and collaborative leadership is combining to build a smarter airport that truly reflects and belongs to Pittsburgh.

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