With Airbus unveiling its A380 jumbo jet last fall, and Boeing at work on its own new jumbo called the Dreamliner, due out in December 2008, airport architects find themselves accommodating a trio of recent phenomena: a new generation of large aircraft, the burgeoning of low-cost carriers, and post-9/11 security measures. Although the North Terminal of the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, which will open in September 2008, does not have to accommodate A380s or Dreamliners, Gensler engaged thoroughly with air travel’s changing playing field. Due to budget limitations—the project’s $315 million price tag was set in 2000—the 800,000-square-foot, three-story glazed building is no spectacle, admits Gensler principal Ron Steinert, AIA. Rather, “we considered what’s going on in the industry to provide a highly efficient and flexible terminal.”
A small ticketing hall reduces square footage and acknowledges that boarding passes are increasingly printed at home or at kiosks. Thanks to an inline baggage screening system, the entrance also appears more elegant as luggage is whisked away at the first point of contact. A linear floor plan ensures the quickest circulation from curbside to gate. In turn, the gates are arranged in a similar straight line and can accommodate a range of airplane sizes: “That affects how airlines can park and turn around their aircraft,” explains Bill Hartman, AIA, principal and managing director of Gensler’s Detroit office. The building’s two biggest tenants will be the airlines Southwest and Spirit, which Steinert says “must be able to pull in an airplane, off-board the passengers, re-board, and pull out to taxi in 20 minutes. Their business plan doesn’t allow for 30 minutes.”
Between lobby and takeoff is, of course, the dreaded security threshold. But passengers at North Terminal will notice a larger space for removing shoes and opening laptop bags, a marquee that clearly directs traffic, and more upscale finishes. And considering that travelers are now spending more time between security and boarding, almost all of the building’s concessions are located beyond the metal detectors. While reigniting the romance of flight would require turning the clocks back to mid-century, North Terminal’s thoughtful design curbs the vein-popping frustration of contemporary air travel.