Keeping It Fresh

With the demands of air traffic, security, and moving masses of people through airport gates, passengers can become an afterthought. That’s how Terminal 3 at San Francisco International Airport felt, with nine American Airlines gates hunkered along its dark, cramped E pier. With the success of American’s airy new home at the Gensler-designed Terminal 2, SFO decided to give T3’s Boarding Area E a makeover. “It feels like a 5-star hotel,” Mayor Ed Lee said on opening day. Adds Gensler’s Jeff Henry, “We designed it to address travelers’ needs at every step.”

Passengers can see clear through the concourse to a large picture window over-looking the airfield. Window walls, skylights, and a raised ceiling—along with funky lounge seating, art, and local shopping—boost spirits and encourage relaxation. There are changing rooms and a private space for mothers to nurse their babies. A play area’s motion-activated spinning disks invite children to exhaust themselves before the flight. And for kids of all ages, the boarding area entrance is anchored by a splashy interactive screen, designed with Razorfish, that’s both info center and giant touchscreen toy. At the gates, the lights set color temperatures to the time of day, helping jet-lagged passengers adjust. A fanless displacement-vent system regulates temperature—part of the design team’s LEED Gold strategy.

The local economy is also a theme: two shell spaces for pop-up stores offer Bay Area retailers up to a year of invaluable exposure. “The point is not only to give local businesses a chance,” says Gensler’s Melissa Mizell, “but also to keep things constantly fresh for the passengers.”