Architectural Analysis

The roof of the pier and hammerhead terminal expansion is made of materials that reduce the heat island effect. Clerestory windows bring natural light deep into the terminal. (All images - Stantec)

What is the reasoning behind the design of the Edmonton International Airport expansion? Carroll McCormick reports.

The roof of the pier and hammerhead terminal expansion is made of materials that reduce the heat island effect. Clerestory windows bring natural light deep into the terminal. (All images - Stantec)

The architects who planned the 463,000sq ft (43,000m2) expansion to the Edmonton International Airport (EIA) terminal had a lot to think about: optimum shape for efficient aircraft movement, cost-effective use of gates for domestic, trans-border and international traffic, LEED Green Building Rating System certification, ease of use by passengers, and an interior that would reflect the spirit of the city and the colours of the Canadian Prairie landscape.
“EIA is looking to set a global standard for what a 21st century airport should be: The three key ingredients and ambitions were design, wayfinding and sustainability,” says Stanis Smith, Senior Vice President, Architecture and Engineering, Stantec.  The firm designed the extension – its tenth major airport project in Canada and 40th worldwide.  Edmonton-based PCL built it and Toronto-based MMM Group was the project manager.
“In recognition of the longer dwell times in airports and increased volumes of passengers, it was important that every passenger’s experience when travelling through our airport be more than just about boarding a plane.  Ensuring that adequate amenities were available for all types of passengers was key.  Our retail and concession programme doubled in size and a business lounge and children’s play areas were added.  A variety of seating options, which accommodate technology were installed; such as plug-ins for laptops, cell phones and free WiFi.  In addition we paid particular attention to many key passenger facilitation processes, which enhance the passengers’ ability to move throughout the airport quickly and efficiently,” explains Paul Garbiar, Vice President, Infrastructure, EIA.
Phase One of the expansion includes tripling the size of the US Departures area, adding a far larger US Customs and Border Protection section, six more gates for US flights, more shops and artwork.  The airport reported a 9% growth in trans-border traffic, 6% above the record set in 2008.  “The old trans-border area was very crowded,” said Mr Garbiar.
Phase Two, scheduled for completion this autumn, includes a new Canadian Border Services Agency area, domestic and international lounge, a NAV CANADA air traffic control tower, administrative offices and a 210-room Marriot Hotel.
In technical terms, the expansion consists of a pier and hammerhead.  “It is designed for three streams of traffic in Canadian airports: domestic, trans-border (Canada/US) and international, which makes Canadian airports the most complex in the world,” Smith says.  One way of reducing the cost of this complexity is to use swing gates.  These are a series of glass walls that can be moved to ‘swing’ between sectors.  They create ‘hold rooms’ that at certain times of the day become trans-border, then at other times become domestic or international, thereby providing the airport with maximum flexibility at minimum cost.
These tetrahedral wood and steel ceiling trusses in the spacious CBP area appear frequently in the expansion.

That is the essence of the design, as far as aircraft and passenger security issues are concerned.  The second ingredient, wayfinding, is all about making it easier for passengers to find their way around.  It sounds commonsense, but it is by no means a ubiquitous design goal.  Evolving architectural philosophy and a desire by airports to make what has become a serious and stressful experience just a little kinder have given the topic greater weight.
Well thought-out wayfinding makes it easier to get around, because it is intuitive.  In the EIA expansion, Smith explains: “Every time there is a boarding gate we have broken the roofline – we made a sweeping lower roof that interrupts the roofline at every gate.  You are presented with a series of arches – clues to where the gates are.  The whole feeling of the space is like a series of rooms that are dedicated to the seating areas.”
Good wayfinding also includes direct lines of sight so passengers can more easily see their destinations.  Additionally this makes it faster to move through the terminal, because twists and turns are minimised.
Designers of today’s airports also want them to be memorable.  The EIA expansion is certainly that.  “It has a unique interior, with superb views of the aircraft and the prairie environment,” Smith says.  The concourses are exceptionally spacious, with high, white-tiled ceilings and unique tetrahedral wood and steel trusses.  The walls and curtain walls form long, graceful curves, which are soothing to the eye.
A myriad of detail, such as the colours and textures of the floor tiles and carpeting, evoke the colours of the prairie landscape.  The architects and designers built up a palette of visual experiences that evoke the airport’s setting.  The view of the outdoors is breathtaking.  “The glass curtain walls are intentionally sloped to encourage people to look out,” Smith notes.
The terraced roof incorporates 5,380 sq  ft (500m2) of clerestory windows that let light penetrate deeply into the terminal.  They create a refreshing airiness within the terminal and passengers get a view of the prairie skies.  The windows and roof are also part of a comprehensive strategy by the architectural team to design to criteria that will qualify the terminal for LEED certification; the only other Canadian airport terminal developed with this in mind is the new Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport terminal that opened in October 2011.  Edmonton’s level of LEED certification will be decided later this year or in 2013.
Direct lines of sight and lower arches at each gate simplify wayfinding.

LEED signifies a standard of sustainability and good practices that can encompass many things about a structure and how it is used, depending on the goals of the designers and owners.  Here is a rundown of some of the qualifying items noted on the LEED Canada-NC 1.0 Project Scorecard Status, by category for the EIA expansion:
Sustainable Sites: A 70,629cu ft (2,000m3) cistern collects storm water.  The roof is LEED compliant for reducing the heat island effect (the amount of solar heat the roof absorbs during the day and then releases at night) by a specified amount.  The design includes storage for 38 bicycles, to encourage workers to cycle to the airport rather than drive, and eight common-use changing rooms.
Water Efficiency: The toilets have high-efficiency fixtures such as low-flow lavatories, which use harvested rainwater, and electronic sensors that will reduce water usage by 20%.
Energy & Atmosphere: The expansion is designed to meet the minimum 18% reduction in the cost of energy; in fact, the current plans will reduce energy costs by 30%.  All new building equipment will be free of CFC refrigerants.
The design documents are being reviewed to ensure that the building is constructed and calibrated to operate as intended.
Materials & Resources: This category includes diverting 50% or 75% of construction waste, using a certain amount of materials that contain 7.5% and 15% recycled content, depending on the LEED certification sought, and using locally-manufactured materials.  It also includes setting up a system so that concessionaires can recycle waste.
Indoor Environmental Quality: Credit-worthy achievements here include installing CO2 sensors, developing an indoor air quality management plan and using low chemical-emitting materials; for example, adhesives, sealants, paints, carpets and composite woods.  It also includes ensuring that indoor air quality is not compromised during construction.
Innovation & Design Process: The expansion includes the use of low mercury lighting, a green cleaning programme (in which janitorial staff are supplied with non-toxic chemicals), an educational programme for building maintenance (building maintenance is specified by architects for LEED buildings) and, most visible as far as the passengers are concerned, the construction of a living wall.
Simply put, a living wall is a hydroponic garden that is planted vertically, instead of horizontally.  Edmonton’s main central wall is 1,120sq ft (104.1m2) and its adjoining left and right upper side walls are 160sq ft (14.9m2) and 140sq ft (13m2), respectively.  The Vancouver-based design firm Green over Grey is building it.  “Any living plant material softens and harmonises the space.  The living wall is also a ‘wow’ factor.  It has never been done in an airport before.  It will be the first thing to greet you as an international passenger and I think it will be a knockout,” Smith says.
Stantec was also in charge of planning the renovation of 15,000sq ft (1,400m2) of the existing terminal.  On the question of marrying the existing and new interiors, Smith explains: “Our approach is not to ignore an existing palette, but to continue it and refresh it.  It is not a question of reinventing it, but to bring it up to current standards.  Part of the interior look is to select colours reflective of Edmonton and the prairies.  They are key drivers of materials for this project.  It was a driver for the [existing] terminal, so you will see a commonality.”
Teepees and canoes in the floor represent one of many themes, in this case Alberta’s People and Culture, incorporated in the terminal architecture.

Stantec was also responsible for creating a sense of place within the expansion.  Ever more popular with airports, sense of place can cover anything from the shape of a terminal roof, the structural building materials, carpet patterns and colours, tiles, artwork and restaurant design and menus.  For EIA a nearly synonymous term ‘celebration statement’ is favoured.  It describes sense of place and a celebration of the life of the city.
The celebration statement expresses itself in some of the concessions, which have been encouraged to draw upon the inspiration of a historic area called Old Strathcona.  “We provide design guidelines to inspire the work of tenants,” Smith says.
It includes the creation of performance stages in the terminal and the commissioning of art and sculpture.  A consideration of art in a building is not always under the architect’s control, but Smith sees it as a legitimate part of the team’s domain.  “Our approach is that art is an integral part of the architectural experience.  We identify key locations with the client and select art.  We make [the pieces] appropriate and relevant to the passenger experience.
“Our approach to terminal airport design is that it should celebrate what is unique to a place.  Edmonton has positioned itself as Canada’s Festival City.  The terminal should celebrate the life of the city and community.”