Airports, Design, Digital, Transportation

When it comes to the design of airport passenger terminals, one thing we can predict with certainty is that over the life of a project, something — or everything — will change. From program, scope and budget changes to technical details, market conditions, schedule and procurement goals, the team will no doubt be asked to pivot. While these changes often complicate the terminal design process, there are measures that can help you realize your vision. Airport authorities, tenants, the construction team and stakeholders should be prepared for change. The ability to be flexible and embrace refinements will enable the team to remain in front of the design and construction process.

In our experience, we see some key principles that are instrumental to a successful project. We recommend setting goals and enabling your team to:

  • Develop a flexible yet functional, right size for your design
  • Apply technology to minimize changes
  • Go slow to go fast — be deliberate in your design and construction

Below we discuss these ideas in more detail and how they can help owners deliver a terminal that benefits the airport, airlines and perhaps most importantly, your passengers:

Create a strong vision. A strong vision and functional organization from the beginning helps owners, users, contractors and stakeholders maintain focus and consensus over the project’s life. With this, we mean that at the outset of the design processes, the design team, client and stakeholders come to a broad agreement of the elements the team and project must accomplish to be successful. We call them Conditions of Satisfaction (CoS). If you can achieve this, everyone wins.

As the design proceeds, passenger forecasts, facility requirements, budget, schedule and overall configuration are followed by detailed design development, and finally the challenges of project delivery and making the design real. As a result of this information, the established conditions of satisfaction often change. Projects that are designed with an affordable, right-sized and flexible vision in mind will enable the team to pivot and absorb these changes to realize success.

Right size your project and keep it as lean as possible. Bear in mind that market conditions, evolving parameters and wildcards like the coronavirus pandemic can change everything, so make sure that your terminal design is elastic and ready to respond to change. From the outset, the team must set up a functional and operational program with a terminal configuration that meets project requirements and can easily and cost-effectively absorb refinements. The design must meet and balance program requirements with cost and schedule parameters. Doing so will ensure that there are fewer parts to manipulate, enabling the team to focus on what really matters — controlling design quality, budget and schedule.

Build the terminal virtually, then make it real. Architects and engineers now have mature software tools enabling them to virtually build projects before breaking ground in real life. At AECOM, our designers are skilled at using advanced design tools and robust technology that are focused on interdisciplinary integration and coordination of building systems, structural components and the architectural envelope. Using virtual design and construction (VDC) allows us to build the terminal ahead of time of time and display an incredible amount of detail as the design evolves. As a result, the team can assemble the parts in advance of actual construction and minimize costly change orders during construction. In short, build the terminal before you build it.

Go slow to go fast. This may sound contradictory, but being deliberate will enable you to design the terminal once and get it right the first time. Don’t rush. Too often, schedule demands push teams to work too quickly, which can result in unnecessary re-designs and costly changes. Bring the construction team onto the project as early as possible and integrate them into the design process. Take advantage of their talent and practical input through design-assist. Assemble a design and construction team that have proven that they can and will work well together. You want one team that is all in and in it for each other. These professionals can help refine terminal design, improve cost effectiveness and ease construction. It’s all about your mission. Calibrate your team to work harmoniously, and get everyone pulling the rope in the same direction.

Getting it right: Massport and the Terminal E Modernization Project. Logan Airport’s Terminal E Modernization project in Boston is a good example of using these principles to gain success on a large complex terminal design project. Executed in several phases over more than a decade, the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) had the vision and determination to get the project done right while remaining flexible. For example, during preliminary design, the terminal was over the established budget. The design and construction team targeted the values for each program element, right sized each functional element and reduced the terminal square footage by nearly 40 percent — without sacrificing terminal operations or passenger experience.

Massport’s vision for Terminal E was conceived as a modern, iconic international passenger terminal with an emphasis on enhanced passenger experience and operational flexibility. Massport led the team on the right path, always providing leadership and focusing on a balance of budget, function, terminal operations and schedule. AECOM has enjoyed a 25-year partnership with Massport serving as its architect for most of their major terminal projects over those years. For the Terminal E Modernization project, AECOM is the prime consultant and architect for the terminal. We collaborated during design with our vision architect luis vidal + architects from Madrid, Spain. Design matters.

As a key element of Massport’s Logan Forward initiative, the Terminal E Modernization Project, now well under construction, is proof that selecting the right team, paying attention to the needs of the airport and the airlines, driving the project team to maintain budget and schedule — all while remaining flexible and absorbing change — can be accomplished if you establish a strong vision and create a team that knows how to get it done.

Originally published Jan 15, 2021

Authors: Terry Rookard, RA, NCARB , Jonathan Rushmore, AIA, NCARB