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September 22, 2008

San Francisco International has just unveiled plans for the redesign of domestic Terminal Two, an impressive economic endeavor for California's fastest growing airport. The ambitious remodel aims to create a "new experience in flying," said Terence Young, design director at lead architecture firm Gensler. Though it's not the first airport in the company's portfolio, Young believes that the project—a joint venture with Michael Willis Architects and contractor Turner Construction Company—represents a major achievement in “bringing the ideals of a community” into a thoroughly sustainable modern space that will facilitate all aspects of a passenger's journey.


The old structure was built in 1951 and remodeled in 1981, but has laid vacant since 2001. Ground has already been broken on the site as part of the design-build approach and construction will commence concurrently with the developing drafts, which is projected to save one year (and countless funds) on the timeline, resulting in a forecasted 30-month schedule to completion. The architects are aiming for a registered LEED-certified Silver rating, a designation no other airport in the country has yet claimed. Features such as daylight harvesting and active use of natural light, assertive recycling programs, and the re-use of much of the materials from the existing building will support the green initiative.

In addition to the high sustainability standards, a holistic incorporation of hospitality into the model was guided by Gensler's consideration about the site's sense of purpose, level of comfort and control, ability to delight (!), and potential to act as a cultural bridge to the city. Airport director John L. Martin, who sat in on the "visioning and partnering" brainstorming sessions, said he'd like passengers "to feel like they are in San Francisco during the time that they spend in the building," which means expanding beyond the standard I [heart] SF keychains, Boudin sourdough loaves, and Ghirardelli chocolate sold in SFO kiosks.

From curbside to runway, Gensler considered environmental and emotional cues that might ease tensions during a long layover, harried dash to departures, or anticipatory wait for an arriving loved one. Restaurateurs will provide fresh and locally sourced cuisine, with a nod towards slow food, while a mix of local and national brand retail shops will contribute to an atmosphere that's more Main Street (or, say, Valencia, Union or Fillmore) than mini-mall. Gates will be arranged for a "living room" feel, with interiors devised for relaxation and a "Central Park" area providing an alternative to the traditionally tight, staid rows of chairs.

On the way out, a bright and colorful meet-and-greet lobby will welcome visitors with new commissioned works from local artists as well as reinstalled pieces from the original Terminal Two. Even the baggage claim has been re-imagined as a hybrid piece of "kinetic art," exposing how bags move down the conveyor through to the carousel, but also acting as an air distribution system to deliver ventilation at a higher temperature and lower velocity than traditional systems—saving energy and providing cooling for just the spaces that require it.

It's a sweeping vision with an optimism for air travel that's infectious. In a time when flying has lost a bit of it's luster and airports can seem like purgatory in shades of grey, the transient time spent in Terminal Two just might be enough to make leaving on a jet plane an enjoyable affair.

Facts and Figures for the new Terminal Two
+ $383-million plan
+ Hundreds of jobs created (450 construction jobs, 200 retail jobs, 200 jobs directly related to the airline growth and expansion)
+ 14 new aircraft gates
+ 587,000 square feet upon completion
+ 32,000 square feet of food and beverage
+ 13,000 square feet of retail facilities (local and national brands)
+ 2x 500 square foot childrens' play rooms

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