Photo Essay 2: Destination Design

March 26, 2007
By Robert Nieminen

Burlington International Airport effectively meets security needs while providing a calming and functional space for travelers.

With more than one million annual passengers passing though its interior, the Burlington International Airport terminal building is one of the busiest public buildings in the state of Vermont and arguably the gateway to the region. The National Transportation Security Administration's heightened security requirements inherently called for a design that divided (or at best filtered) the "non-sterile" land side from the "sterile" (secure) air side. Simultaneously, the passenger flow estuary between air side and land side begged for an architectural solution that emphasized a connection between the two sides, not a division.

The space available for a secure passenger waiting area expansion offered limited opportunities for windows to the exterior. The program also called for a "seamless" connection between the new parking structure and new terminal building—a design element which equated to long walking distances and required weather protection.

The architectural and design goals were to create a space and experience that encourages passengers to inhabit the figurative space between origin and destination, while simultaneously addressing the facility's diverse programmatic and functional needs. The project was also designed to create interesting, calming and functional spaces with visual connectivity to external building activities that encourage passengers to reengage their positive curiosity in flight in a time of political unrest and perceived fear of flight.

Two contradicting ideas were embraced to create an architecture and design that unifies division and connection:

  1. The Transportation Security Administration's requirement to achieve a clear and filtered division between land side and air side.
  2. The passenger's need for seamless connectivity between land and air.

The architectural link between the parking garage and terminal building effectively becomes an inhabited wall with pedestrian circulation above and between air side and land side activities. Circulating passengers are sequentially presented with air side and land side activities in-and-around the "wall." Floor-to-ceiling windows offer simultaneous views of small-scale automotive activities to the west and large-scale aircraft operations and the Green Mountains to the east.

Once checked into the secure waiting area, the design embraced another set of design solutions. Positioned directly above the expanded secure waiting areas, views to the exterior are composed with four circular skylights with conical wells expanding up to nearly 8 meters in diameter. The wells penetrate through a deep ceiling cavity to direct and frame glimpses of passing clouds, birds and aircraft. In addition to the seated passengers musing skyward, the skylight composition punctuates the entire space with dynamic fields of light and shadow projecting onto the walls and floor below.

The end result is a dynamic space that meets both the need for a high level of security and a sense of comfort and peace of mind for today's hectic travelers.

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