With increased passenger volumes expected at Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), along with city officials, selected Fentress Architects in association with HNTB to develop a design concept for the modernization of LAX – transforming the airport with a design that both dramatically enhances the passenger experience and re-establishes it as a modern U.S. gateway in a competitive global market.
The emphasis of the modernization is to dramatically improve the passenger experience from curbside to airside with a design that adeptly captures the vibrant spirit of the City and establishes a new, refreshingly convenient functionality. Where currently there is a conglomerate of disparately flat, rectilinear concourses extending from congested terminals, Fentress envisions an inspiring, dynamic and integrated airport with a unifying theme. The inspiration for the design is something all Angelenos share, the very natural resource that positioned the city for its preeminent port status- the ocean.
While renowned for being a hub of high technology, and for the glamour associated with Hollywood, Los Angeles – named for the Queen of Angels – established itself on California’s southwest coast, grew and prospered because of its strategic geography and captivating seascape.
The dynamic new design for LAX is inspired by the Pacific Ocean on LAX’s west side, with roof tops flowing as rhythmic waves breaking on the shore. Flat-seam stainless steel stretches over the column-free structure, creating an architectural vocabulary that unifies the entire airport with a cohesive them.
The design also honors the iconic Theme Building which ushered in the Jet Age at LAX when designed in 1961. The long association of LAX with the historic building and its parabolic arches would gracefully celebrated with two arched bridges that increase in size toward the West, just as planes take off and gain altitude over the Pacific Ocean.
In both conspicuous and subtle ways, the modernized design of LAX pronounces, “You’re in LA!” Numerous meeting were held between community members, planners and the architects to define what primary images come to mind for them in defining the city. Among the most common themes that came to mind were beaches, city, mountains, sunlight, color escapism, openness, trend-setting, movement, entertainment and creativity. Such themes called for a design that expresses movement, openness and an expression that leads the eye skyward.
The sea tides, with the sure ebb and flow of their waves, are most dramatically expressed from the air to passengers taking off or landing. With the LA spirit in mind, and in line with LAWA’s commitment to improve the passenger experience, the design exudes a sense of welcome – as much in the physical and functional realm as in the architectural expression. Very early on in the journey, the traveler to LAX will experience a comfortable pace to which they’re not accustomed – a haven for the often harried LAX traveler.
At Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT), larger curbside canopies would create and airy cover and more gracious entry to this important Gateway.
Upon entry into TBIT, centralized security would enhance way-finding and lead departing passengers into the Great Hall, where they can choose from a variety of world-class concessions and retail offering. The traveler will sense the enormous impact of having a space open to natural light, with both high ceiling and glass curtain walls.
The wave forms are intentionally designed to allow protection from the glare of the sun on the southwest side, while allowing for copious light on the northeast side. The dining area adjacent to the west window wall would allow dramatic views of the airfield and the Santa Monica Mountains in the distance. The two new levels of premiere airline lounges will allow passengers to escape the bustle on upper level terraces that look onto concession and retail areas below.
International passengers arriving at TBIT would be guided through the concourse on an elevated secured corridor. The corridor would be open to the ceiling above, allowing maximum natural daylight to welcome passengers to Los Angeles. The enlarged corridor would allow for changing public art exhibits that introduce travelers to the diverse culture of Los Angeles. These passengers would have shorter waiting periods in the expanded passport control and baggage claim areas. Interactive graphics through the passport control and baggage claim areas would welcome passengers not only to Los Angeles, but to the United States.
The two-level bridge offers either a train ride on the lower level, or automated pedestrian walks on the upper level. The split level design will allow unobstructed views to both the north and south. Viewing lounges at either end of the bridge will provide a welcoming view downtown to the east and a departing view of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean to the West, an experience similar to standing at the end of a pier. This relaxing setting will remain a pleasant memory in the minds of departing passengers.
“The successful LAX of the 21st century will be a consummate host to the world, both seamlessly integrating into its context and embodying the spirit of the place in such a way that it becomes a new, modern landmark by which the region is recognized worldwide,” said Curtis W. Fentress, FAIA, principal in charge of design for the LAX modernization. Visitors to this new gateway will appreciate the subtle and conspicuous ways that L.A.’s unique spirit is vividly captured by the architecture.
There is still much to be done before the first shovel is in the ground. Each of these projects must first complete a rigorous environmental review process.