Addition design merges old, new Review: The best elements from the old building and clever new ideas make the Gov. William Donald Schaefer International Terminal bright and spacious without being austere or inhumane.


November 30, 1997|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

The bright red columns are there. So is the signature space-frame roof.

But beneath the familiar facade, the new International Pier at Baltimore-Washington International Airport represents a dramatic departure from other sections of the terminal -- and not just in terms of travel destinations.

When the $139 million terminal opens to the public Saturday, passengers will discover that it has wider corridors than the rest of the airport, sensible terrazzo floors rather than carpet, and a soaring glass-pyramid roof that floods the arrival and departure lobbies with natural light.

By taking the best elements of the existing terminal and incorporating new features such as these, architects for the international pier have redefined the experience of traveling in and out of Maryland's largest airport.

Openness and light

Their design emphasizes openness, light and clarity of space, while continuing the clean, uncluttered look established when the airport was rebuilt in the late 1970s. They got so much right, it's almost a shame the new pier is primarily for international travel.

Perhaps the architects' greatest achievement, from a pure design standpoint, is that they have made arrival as pleasing architecturally as departure, despite the rigors of claiming baggage and going through customs. Besides making BWI a more memorable gateway to this country for foreign travelers, their approach is likely to be copied by airports around the world.

The new pier contains at least one feature that promises to make life easier for many domestic travelers as well -- a train station that will link the terminal with Maryland's central light rail line when it opens Dec. 6.

Also of local interest is a series of art works and artifacts -- including a 170-foot-long time line by Adler Display depicting great moments in Maryland aviation and space history, and a replica of the Maryland-built China Clipper, an early intercontinental aircraft -- that provide subtle reminders of Maryland's role in the global marketplace.

It all adds up to a world-class facility that puts BWI in a better position than ever to increase its share of the international travel market.

"From the beginning, our goal was to create a strong sense of gateway," said Jay Hierholzer, associate administrator for marketing and development at BWI. "We wanted to make a wonderful first impression."

Unified but different

To design the latest expansion, the Maryland Aviation Administration turned to a joint venture headed by the STV Group of Baltimore and William Nicholas Bodouva + Associates of New York. Clark Construction Group built the pier, and Parsons Infrastructure and Technology Group was the construction manager.

An airport design specialist who had not worked at BWI before, Bodouva made an early decision that set the entire project on the right course.

He admired the existing terminal, as designed by Warren Peterson and Charles Brickbauer of Baltimore and others, and concluded that its modernist vocabulary ought to serve as the starting point for the design of the expansion.

So instead of reinventing the wheel, as Cesar Pelli did at the new Washington National Airport, he continued to use elements such as the red tile columns and the space frame roof.

At the same time, Bodouva and his associates reasoned that this was a building with design issues specifically related to international travelers, and wanted the architecture to express that concept as well.

The result is a hybrid -- a building that grows out of the old terminal but has an identity of its own.

"We looked at lots of options, including a totally new design," Bodouva explained. "But I finally felt that we should respect what was good and build on it. We didn't want to do exactly the same thing, but we couldn't pretend it wasn't there, either. The challenge was to make it unified but different."

BWI meets the Louvre

Built on the north end of the U-shaped terminal and connected directly to it, the international pier is organized the same way as the rest of the airport. Its upper level is reserved for departures, its lower level for arrivals. It also has a middle level, called the "sterile corridor," that is used by both arriving and departing passengers.

A key design departure from the rest of the airport involves the layout of the ticketing concourse. In the rest of the airport, ticket counters run parallel to the public corridors and the service road outside.

At the international terminal, ticket counters have been set back at an angle from the entrance, and arranged to form a "V." They frame a triangular atrium that is covered by a glass pyramid rising 90 feet above the ground. On the upper level, part of the floor has been cut away to allow sunlight to filter onto the lower lobby.

The floor surface is terrazzo, and the space frame structure is white, as opposed to the black space frame visible elsewhere in the airport.

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