Wednesday, October 15th, 2008
This is the first post in a multi-part series providing a comprehensive review of the new H. Weir Cook Terminal at the Indianapolis International Airport. When you are done here you can read part two (the interior), part three (finishes and furnishes), part four (signage), part five (the artwork), part six (miscellaneous, or rethinking the airport as public place), and part seven (conclusion).
Let’s get a few things out of the way up front.
Is this terminal world class architecture? No.
Did Indianapolis deserve world class architecture for $1.1 billion? Yes.
Is this nevertheless a terminal the city can be proud of? Yes, clearly.
Perhaps the best summation I heard of the terminal was “Indianapolis: You Don’t Have to Move Anymore”. I went into this tour with a skeptical eye ready to find problems. But I found very few. There is a clearly a huge amount of intelligent thought and attention to detail that went into this. The city has been on a roll implementing major capital projects: the library, Lucas Oil Stadium, the convention center expansion, and this terminal all come to mind. Of what I’ve seen, this is the most successful major civic project in the city from an architectural point of view. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and this terminal is a more than worthy first impression for visitors. I expect more than a few new arrivals to be taken aback that a terminal this good exists in a smaller Midwestern city like Indy.
This terminal is not world class in that its architecture will not, with limited exceptions, attract notice for its design. Architects HOK are known for functionality, not the sublime. Yet this terminal is world class in a sense. Namely it would be a terminal that would look at home in any city in the world, no matter how elite. And in practice it kicks the crap out of such notorious pits as LGA and LHR T3. While it is no Madrid Barajas, this airport outclasses almost every other one I’ve been in – and I’ve been in a lot. And while Madrid may possibly have the world’s more stunning airport, it has functional problems, notably a single long row of gates in its international side, the fact that you need to take a train to a remote satellite, and extremely long waits for bags from the automated system. If the new IND is as functional as it looks, it should actually beat Madrid from a functional standpoint.
If the new terminal is not a grand slam home run, it’s at least a triple.
With that, here’s a picture of the main terminal building on the departures level.
You see clearly here the modern design in white metal and glass. Very sleek and aerodynamic, befitting an airport. The tortoise shell type of design of the roof just says “airport terminal”. While I think it works well, it is pretty boring vernacular architecture, IMO. Similarly, the wing shaped canopies, sloped forward to provide the feeling of forward motion and energy, are effective, but standard. This is a motif that is in wide use today and while effective is not inspiring.
The same motif is echoed on the light poles along the access road:
These are nice light standards. The same motif also recurs in the interior, at the ticketing counters, for example.
One the whole, you can see a pleasant, modern airport design here.
Here’s an interesting look of the back side of the terminal building from the tarmac between the two concourses.
To me this looks a bit like a gigantic eye rising up out of the ground.
Here is one of the concourses.
Again, what can you really say except, “It’s an airport”. I do though like how the light poles angle following the slope of the curtain wall on the concourse.
Here’s one publicly accessible area of the exterior of the terminal, this one right outside of baggage claim.
You can also see a piece of art here. There’s another similar area on the other side of the terminal. I actually like this space a lot. It is also easily visible from inside the terminal because of the glass wall, which very neatly draws the outside in.
The airport authority could have stopped with this basic, serviceable terminal design and declared victory. But they didn’t fall into that trap. Instead, they brought a lot of design intelligence to the ancillary structures of the airport, even something as mundane as the parking payment processing barrier. This is where the design really shines. In fact, I’d argue that the exterior architecture of these buildings actually exceeds that of the main terminal.
Here, for example, is the new control tower.
This is the first major structure you see entering the airport off the expressway so it is critical to creating a good first impression of the facility when arriving by highway. As the third tallest tower in the country, it is even more so a prominent structure. The original tower was designed by I.M. Pei and was one of the few structures in town designed by an architect of international repute, but this tower actually surpasses it. I’ve never liked the typical airport tower with flat windows set at oblique angles to create a sort of octagonal effect. This one with its continuous curve sloping away from the building looks much more handsome in addition to creating a sense of upward thrust. The octagonish small top piece fades into the background next to that. Note the similarity of the angle to the lighting towers flanking the concourse. There’s also a faint allusion to the motif used for the canopies (and of course the direct use of it for what appears to be a bus shelter on the bottom left of the photo). The buttresses underneath reinforce the look of this tower as a sort of cap or stopper on the concrete shaft, which I think is a nice touch.
The tower itself rises up from a base building that is a low rise office structure.
In this building the designers used horizontal banding to reinforce the low rise nature. This makes a nice yin and yang type contrast with the main tower. The other thing I’d say is that this building looks nicer than most new Class A suburban office buildings you see in the city. Given that this is an ancillary structure with presumably no public access, it is remarkable to see this much care go into the design.
Here you see the parking garage in a distance view, showing a decorative corkscrew-like funnel object on the top of the circular entrance and exit ramps.
And here’s a closeup.
Here you see that it almost looks like a radar or satellite dish, and you see the upward thrusting motif from the tower and the concourse lights again.
Continuing with the garage, here you see a view of the canopy over the central corridor of the garage. Parking passengers are funneled here to get into the main terminal building. The interior features artwork that will be covered in a future posting. This structure uses the same metal “tripod” type supports as the main terminal. Interestingly, it forsakes the upward thrusting motif in favor of a downward facing arc. You’ll see the contrast with the tower in the background. I’m not sure on the reason for this, though it might have to do with light capture. Whatever the case, it again gives a nice yin-yang balance. Remember this design because you’ll see it again a couple more times.
Here is the side of the garage facing the terminal, seen panned to one side. This is likewise taken from the departures road in front of the terminal, just the same as the central canopy, only from a slightly different spot.
Speaking of the canopy, you see the downward arc carried through here. You also see a lot of landscaping. This will hopefully end up looking very nice.
Here is one of my absolute favorite shots. It shows the side of the parking garage.
The entire garage structure makes use of the upward thrust motif. This pictures lets you see that the angle of the slop one the garage is identical to that of the top of the tower. There are also two sloping projections that reinforce this. The mirrored glass reflects the extensive glass on the main terminal. The narrower base treatments also carry through in a way as well. Again, this is a parking garage. most places this would be a simple rectangular block. But here the airport authority decided to spend money to do something special with it. This is an example to follow elsewhere.
At the new IND, it is even a pleasure to pay to park. Here’s where you do so. Again, we see the same design cues. And again, we see a lot of attention paid to a structure that could have ended up an afterthought.
Since I’m a road geek, I’ll wrap this up with a picture of a service road overpass that is rather tastefully done as these things go:
To sum up, while I think the exterior of the main terminal building itself is rather undistinguished, it is serviceable and effective. But the other buildings in the complex really stand out for being so much above the average you normally get.
I’ll wrap up this installment by noting two other unique facets of the terminal. First, this was the first terminal designed from the ground up post-9/11. This means it was designed to clearly accommodate in its very conception the new security environment in which we live. It features all sorts of cool things like in-line baggage scanning, two large security screening halls, a plethora of dining and shopping opens both before and beyond security, protected connections between concourses to that you don’t need to re-pass through security, etc. The TSA setup at the airport will also feature the latest scanning equipment – including the dreaded Total Recall-esque see through your clothing X-ray booth – fast track lines, family lines, etc. Hopefully this airport will prove a dream for people who are used to the tacked on security at most other airports.
Secondly, this is one of the very first airports to target LEED certification. In fact, it might be in the first instance in the United States where an entire terminal complex achieves LEED certification. While it will be a year or so before the US Green Building Council renders a ruling, LEED compliance was built in from the ground up. (If they don’t pass certification, someone should lose their head). Here are some of the green features in the new airport:
- Public transport will be provided
- A roofing membrane that is star rated for energy efficiency will be used
- The project will use local materials wherever possible
- Light fixtures with shielded and directed light – which reduces light pollution – will be used
- Infrared switches on bathroom and toilet fixtures will be used, as well as high-efficiency toilet fixtures to reduce water consumption
- Construction waste management will be carefully controlled, and old asphalt and concrete reused as back-fill in other areas of the project
- The timber used in construction will be obtained from Forest Stewardship Council environmentally managed and sustainable forests
- Airport vehicles will be powered by electric motors wherever possible or using clean-burning fuels
- An energy-efficient underfloor heating / cooling system will be used in the plaza and adjacent spaces
- The high ceiling space of the terminal will have a conventional air volume HVAC system employing stratification principles to conserve energy
- High-performance glazing with ceramic frits will be used to reduce interior glare and solar heat build-up in the concourses
- Locations will be provided for the storage and collection of recyclable materials
- A two-tiered glycol recovery system will be used for the separate collection of high- and low-concentrated storm water run-off. Glycol and wastewater will be recycled
- Sealants, coatings, paints and carpet systems with low levels of volatile organic compound will be used to reduce allergic reactions and odours
By the way, while public transport for now means the bus, supposedly provisions were made in this terminal for a future light rail terminal.
You can read more about the LEED certification efforts and green features of the airport here and here. Assuming the LEED certification comes through, this would make the new IND terminal the most environmentally advanced airport terminal in the United States. The city and airport authority should market the heck out of this. I’d even devote an entire display in the Civic Plaza (a central interior space in the terminal) to this permanently. If you google for the Indy aiport and LEED, you already see the city getting lots of specialized press for this. The environmental features are one area the city could attract notice for the design, and so everyone should take full advantage of this. With things like this, the new IPL wind farm, and some of the city’s Sustain Indy initiatives, perhaps Indianapolis can start changing the game in how its is perceived vis-a-vis the environment.
There is an official web page with lots of information about the new Indianapolis airport. There is what appears to be a fan site, including forums and photo galleries you might want to check out. And I also found this cool brouchure.
Stay tuned for future installments.