Fort McMurray, Alberta


As you fly over the sepia tufts of northern Alberta's boreal forest on a winter's day, a new airport terminal in the town of Fort McMurray (Fort Mac) reads as an industrial sculpture on the flat prairie. Designed by the Vancouver, British Columbia'based office of mcfarlane biggar, the Fort McMurray International Airport is an unexpected gem in a region of beautiful natural surroundings but bleak architecture. The hybrid mass-timber, steel, and concrete structure is part of a larger multistage project and replaces an existing nearby terminal—a tiny bunker barely a fifth the size that has been refurbished for charter flights.

For most travelers, an airport is a fleeting architectural point of transition, a holding pen and launchpad between the realms of work or vacation and home. Fort McMurray International Airport is a different kind of portal. The local economy centers on a single industry: oil sands, also known as tar sands, the source of the synthetic crude that would be carried by the contentious Keystone XL Pipeline. The airport serves the transient workers who come here to build and operate the nearby mines where they extract bitumen, a viscous form of crude oil that must then be diluted in order to flow properly. It's grueling, labor-intensive work that relies heavily on far-flung contract workers like Jason Kailer, a 42-year-old husband and father whose home base is Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, B.C., about 1,000 miles to the southwest. He works two weeks on, one week off as a quality controller and has passed through the airport four times a month, on average, for the past 12 years. “It's pretty much my home,” he concludes. And the new terminal's light, beauty, amenities, and sheer solidity have literally changed the quality of his working life—it's “like night and day,” says Kailer.

The 160,000-square-foot, three-story building takes its cue from the horizontality and colors of its rugged landscape. The canted bronzed Cor-Ten steel of its facade echoes the hues of the nearby forests and suggests the rigor, energy, and hardiness of the community it serves. The structure itself seems to emerge right out of the land: the upper roadway at departures level serves as the roof for the ground-floor arrivals level, making a seamless connection between the building and its surroundings.

The first thing you notice when you step from a plane is a bountiful sense of welcome, with daylight spilling in from floor-to-ceiling glazing. “Usually, in the arrivals area, you're herded into a dimly lit basement with no natural light at all,” says firm principal in charge Steve McFarlane. “At Fort Mac, it's actually the grandest part of the airport.” Daylight even seeps into the sequestered baggage-handling section on the east side of the ground floor via a series of slot windows—a workplace amenity almost unheard of in conventional airport design. The only sections that are strictly shielded from daylight are the security-screening offices that demand complete privacy.

While a central interior stairway is sheathed in a steel alloy, the main passenger circulation and lounge areas are, by and large, defined by wood. Glulam beams hold up wide planks of cross-laminated timber (CLT)—a high-strength engineered spruce-pine-fir super-plywood made in British Columbia at one of only two facilities in North America. Beneath, an elegant oak veneer clads the wall along the gate waiting areas, its perforated surface serving as a conduit for sound-absorbing acoustic panels that are concealed discreetly behind it.

The muscularity of the forms and the material palette dovetails with the nature of the end-users: strapping, hard-working men and women—though, to be sure, mostly men. “We wanted the airport to reflect the community,” says McFarlane. The firm has won acclaim for an art gallery, fashion boutique, and many high-end homes, but Fort Mac is another story altogether.

The long shoebox-like volume is broken up into discrete sections that read as intimate, demarcated by shifts in ceiling treatment and wall cladding. Most dramatically, a floating upper-level scrim of vertical slats, made of flat bars of white powder-coated steel, evokes the region's famed Northern Lights when illuminated. The designers have kept internal clutter to a minimum by embedding the waste receptacles and gate numbers in the walls and tucking the sprinkler system and other mechanicals—painted black—in gaps between the ceiling's CLT slabs. Additional sound absorption is integrated into the second-floor walls by way of acoustic insulation installed behind perforated laminated-MDF strips that read as tiles. Through this sort of careful streamlining and architectural clarity, the terminal provides what passengers arguably need more than anything: a sense of calm and quiet.

The plan was conceived so that it can expand in the future. In a town of hastily constructed buildings, whose previous airport was one step up from a Quonset hut, the new terminal is a harbinger for the future, figures Kailer, echoing the sentiments of many of his fellow workers. “It sends a message that it's built for the long term.”


Formal name of building:
Fort McMurray International Airport

Fort McMurray, Alberta

Completion Date:
Opened, June 2014. Completed, October 2014

Gross square footage:
163,350 square feet

Total project cost:
$258 million CDN

Fort McMurray Airport Authority

Fort McMurray Airport Authority

Architect's firm name, address, phone, and fax number:
Completed by office of mcfarlane biggar architects + designers (omb)
Commenced as mcfarlane green biggar architecture + design

office of mcfarlane biggar architects + designers
15b Chesterfield Place, North Vancouver, BC V7M 3K3
Phone: (604) 986-9924

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Principal in Charge, Steve McFarlane (Architect AAA, AIBC)
Project Architect, Rob Grant (Architect AIBC)

Interior designer:
office of mcfarlane biggar architects + designers

Engineers (structural, civil, mechanical, etc.):
Structural: Equilibrium Consulting Inc.
Mechanical/Electrical: Integral Group

Project management:
Stantec Inc.

Landscape: PWL Partnership Landscape Architects Inc.
IT+Security: Faith Group LLC
Wayfinding + Signage: The Design Office
Code: GHL Consultants Ltd.
Vertical Transportation: JW Gunn Consultants Inc.
Lighting: Total Lighting Solutions
Acoustical: BKL Consultants
General contractor: Ledcor Construction Ltd.

Ema Peter
Phone: +1 (604) 789-6339


160,000 square feet

Project Cost:

$205 million



Structural system
Project features a hybrid Mass Timber, Steel, Precast Concrete and Cast-In-Place Concrete Structure.
Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project:
Mass Timber: Structurlam - Glulam Beams and Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) Panels
Precast concrete: Armtec - Precast Hollowcore Slabs and Precast Insulated Panels

Exterior cladding
Masonry: Expocrete - Concrete Masonry Units (used as interior partitions and structural walls)
Metal Panels: Firestone Metal Products - Metal Cladding
Metal/glass curtain wall: Shüco - Aluminum Curtain Wall
Rainscreen (terra cotta, composite, etc.): Cascadia Windows and Doors - Cascadia Clip Thermal Spacer
Thermal Insulation:
Roxul - CavityRock DD Semi Rigid Insulation
Dow Building Solutions - Extruded Polystyrene Insulation
Owens Corning - High Density Extruded Polystyrene Insulation
Moisture barrier:
Tremco - Waterproofing Membrane
Grace - Below Grade Waterproofing Membrane
Henry Company Canada
Kryton International - Concrete Waterproofing Admixture
Soprema - Alsan Flashing
Exterior Gypsum Board: Georgia-Pacific - DensGlass Sheathing
Curtain wall: Shüco - Aluminum Unitzed and Stick-built Curtain Wall
Exposed Concrete Sealant: Fabrikem - Fabriglaze Sealer
Other cladding unique to this project: Dissimilar Metal Design - Preweathered Steel Cladding

Built-up roofing: Soprema - SBS Modified Bitumen Roofing Membrane

Metal frame: YKK AP

Garibaldi Industries
TGP Technical Glass Products
Insulated-panel or plastic glazing: Lexa

Entrances: Shüco - Entrance Doors
Metal doors: Shanahan’s
Wood doors: McMurray Interiors
Sliding doors: Besam Assa Abloy - Sliding Doors
Revolving Doors: Besam Assa Abloy - Revovling Doors
Security grilles: McKeon Doors - Side Coil Security Grilles and Coiling Counter Doors
Special doors:
Habersham Metal Products
Krieger Specialty Products
Upswinging doors, other:
Albany Door Systems - Rapid Roll Doors
Richard Wilcox- Sectional Overhead Doors
Acudor - Access Doors

Best Locks
Exit devices:
Von Duprin
CR Laurence
Canadian Builders Hardware
CR Laurence
Security devices:
Schlage ' Electromagnetic Locks
Von Duprin - Electric Strikes
Other special hardware:
LCN - Automatic Door Operators
Stanley Automatic Door Operators

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
Geometrik - Geotone S Acoustical Panel
CGC - Halcyon Clima Plus and Rada Clima Plus
Suspension grid: CGC - DXF Fineline Suspension Grid
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: McMurray Interiors
Paints and stains:
Cloverdale Paint
Sansin - ENS (finish on Structural Heavy Timber where exposed)
Gypsum Board: CetainTeed - ProRoc Type X
Acoustical Wall Paneling: Geometrik - Geotone S Acoustical Plank
Acoustical Insulation:
Roxul - AFB Acoustic Blanket Insulation
Roxul - RockBoard Acoustic Board Insulation
Plastic laminate: Formica - ColorCore Plastic Laminate
Solid surfacing: DuPont - Corian
Floor and wall tile:
Wasau - Terrazo Tile (Installed through most of the public spaces, including the Check-In Hall, Arrivals Hall and Concourse.)
Aeon Stone - Amazon Flamed Granite (Installed at all revolving doors.)
Stonetile - Porcelain Floor Tile (Installed at select washrooms.)
American Olean - 2x2 Pocelain Mosaic (Installed at select back of house spaces.)
Walk Off Aluminum Grates: Nystrom - Aluminum Walk Off Grates
VCT flooring: Amtico - Stonescape
Resinous Flooring: Duochem - DuoQuartz
Carpet: Interface - RE Tile Carpet Tile
Raised flooring: Lidner Group - Nortec Access Flooring
Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Dissimilar Metal Design - Preweathered Steel Cladding
Fisher & Ludlow - Metal Architectural Grating

Adjustable Keyboard Platform: Workrite - Advantage Dual Keyboard Platform Reception furniture: McMurray Interiors - Custom Millwork

Interior ambient lighting:
Philips Ledalite
Cooper Lighting
MP Lighting
IO Lighting
Exterior: Inter-Lux
Dimming System or other lighting controls: Douglas Lighting Controls
Receptacles: Bocci - Flush Receptacles

Elevators/Escalators: Otis Elevator Company - Elevators and Escalators

Toto - Wall-Mounted Low Consumption Toilet
Toto - Wall-Mounted Low Consumption Urinal
Toto - Curva Undercounter Lavatory
Toto - Axiom EcoPower Faucet
Toto - Upton Handshower Set
Acorn Aqua - AquaContour Drinking Fountain
Sustainable Solutions International - Fluid Tight Radius Kitchen Sink
Delta - Kitchen Faucet

Energy management or building automation system: ESC Automation

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
MechoSystems - Rollershades and Sundialer Rollershade Controller

Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
Kwik-Wall - Operable Partitions
Passenger Boarding Bridges ' JBT Aerospace
Baggage Handling Systems ' Vandelande Industries