Page N3.2 . 03 April 2002                     
ArchitectureWeek - News Department
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    Focus on Passenger Needs

    The design of the new terminal began with a comprehensive review of dozens of major airports both in and outside the United States. The design team visited airports in Munich, Prague, and Amsterdam, among others, while realizing that Detroit needed its own solution.

    The McNamara Terminal does not, however, pay homage to "Motor City" in ways those familiar with Detroit may expect. Absent are oft-used automotive motifs such as cars, wheels, and hubcaps. Instead the airport's architects introduce materials like stainless steel that more subtly refer to Detroit's heritage as a center for industrial design.

    The terminal's high-end interior finishes also include those rarely found in U.S. airports: terrazzo flooring, granite counter tops, ceramic tile, as well as Detroit-crafted Pewabic tile, finished with a metallic-luster glaze.

    "Not only will the interior finishes look fantastic," says SmithGroup's chairperson, David King, "but they will be incredibly durable and retain their appearance much longer than those commonly used in airports."

    With a primary design focus on passenger convenience, designers knew something innovative would be required to move people swiftly along the concourse's extraordinary length. The solution is an elevated express tram. The innovation is to bring the tram indoors.

    A first-of-its-kind interior tram runs along the length of the McNamara's Concourse A, 21 feet (6.4 meters) above travelers. Engineered for quiet operation, the tram runs on a cushion of air. An open, tube-shaped structure surrounding the track is designed to reduce noise even further.

    "Locating the tram inside the concourse and overhead makes it highly visible," says King. "We feel that seeing the tram will give passengers the confidence to use it and reach any gate in Concourse A in a matter of minutes."

    Carefully considered wayfinding features continue the emphasis on passenger-focused design. A simple, straightforward circulation layout aids passenger orientation. Passengers seeking information about gate location look up to see a colossal sign, six feet (1.8 meters) tall by 37 feet (11 meters) wide, at the end of the "Center Link," just below the tram's central station. The sign also recommends walking, moving sidewalk, or express tram as the best way to get to each gate.

    The new terminal incorporates features to enhance passenger convenience at a small scale as well. For instance, a shelf at each ticketing counter serves as a writing surface or convenient set-down spot for a hand bag during check-in procedures.

    ... And on Passenger Delight

    Two major architectural features aim simply to delight travelers. A 39-foot- (12-meter-) wide fountain, designed in partnership with WET Design, serves as a focus at the terminal's midpoint.

    The water feature, intended as a commentary on contemporary travel, uses choreographed laminar streams to create a kinetic display that can vary from tranquil and contemplative to playful and energetic. Red fiber-optic lighting illuminates the dance of the 45 streams.

    An 800-foot (244-meter) tunnel connecting concourses uses mixed media to create a changing experience of sound and light. The "non-tunnel," as its designers refer to it, features sculpted art-glass panels, fabric, advanced lighting technology, and computer-programmed sound and light synchronization for an energetic experience unlike the commonly tedious airport tunnels.

    Detroit has struggled for decades with a notable series of planning missteps. Now, with their practical design enlightened by creative structural expression, sky views, and sunlight itself, the McNamara Terminal's designers seem to have given the city a new building to be proud of.

    SmithGroup, Inc. is the United States' sixth largest architecture, engineering, and planning firm, with offices in Detroit, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Arizona, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin. The firm will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2003.



    ArchWeek Image

    Airline gates at the new McNamara Terminal in Detroit.
    Photo: Doug Ashley

    ArchWeek Image

    The terminal's "Center Link," with large fountain to the left and interior tram above.
    Photo: Justin Maconochie

    ArchWeek Image

    The passenger tunnel between concourses is energized with light and color.
    Photo: Justin Maconochie

    ArchWeek Image

    Passenger terminal section looking east.
    Image: SmithGroup

    ArchWeek Image

    Terminal main floor plan.
    Image: SmithGroup

    ArchWeek Image

    The terminal's interior finishes include some rarely found in U.S. airports such as terrazzo flooring and Pewabic tile.
    Photo: Justin Maconochie

    ArchWeek Image

    The visible and accessible express tram runs above the pedestrian concourse.
    Photo: Justin Maconochie

    ArchWeek Image

    Clear wayfinding was a high priority for the terminal's designers.
    Photo: Justin Maconochie


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