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Friday 30 Jul 2010

Designs unveiled for Caltrava’s Denver International Airport expansion

In the United States - if not the world - Spanish Architect Santiago Calatrava is the go-to guy when it comes to designing transportation facilities. Having established a reputation as a formidable designer of bridges, Calatrava moved on to design a collection of world-class cultural facilities and other instantly recognisable structures such as the Chicago Spire and the Ground Zero Transportation hub, earning him a fair share of fans and critics. So naturally, when the news broke that his design for a major expansion of the 5th busiest airport in the United States was to be unveiled today, journalists and critics were poised at the front lines to report on this momentous occasion; bets were hedged as to whether the design would rise to the level of an icon, like many Calatrava-designed structures, or fall deep into a hole of nothingness like the ill-fated Chicago Spire, which no amount of cost cutting strategies could rescue.

If Caltarava seems a risky bet, he is. Many of his structures were too ambitious for the patrons who commissioned them, leading some, like the Milwaukee Museum of Art, scrambling for ways to stop bleeding money despite throngs of visitors. But if Calatrava's design for the Denver International Airport expansion garners the universal and instant admiration that his Ground Zero transportation hub did upon its unveiling, the risk may be worth it. Whether you like his buildings or not, Calatrava succeeds in difficult contexts that are highly prone to failure, like Ground Zero where in spite of the air still being thick with contention, raw emotion and divisiveness, he has won the hearts of the world making him perhaps an ideal choice for a project such as this one that is long on ambition, mired in politics and enormously expensive.

The new South Terminal Redevelopment Program at Denver’s International Airport is made up of four independent yet physically integrated projects: a new rail station that will connect the airport to downtown Denver, a signature rail bridge, a multi-use plaza with retail and concessions, and a 500-room hotel and conference centre. Denver is one of the few major airports in the world without a passenger rail link to the downtown. This project endeavors to change that by building out the original plans of the 1995 airport which included an on-site hotel and a rail station linked to the downtown. In designing the train station located next to Jeppesen Terminal’s iconic roof, Calatrava chose to continue the axial symmetry of the terminal in the new work and contrast its tensile fabric tents with a compressive arch - a motif he continues in each of the program elements.

This motif is first announced in the project's signature rail bridge, a tied arch structure, which serves as a symbolic gateway to the Denver International Airport and is continued in the station’s design where the arch is repeated to create a generous four storey vaulted space. Stairs, elevators and escalators provide access from the station to lateral circulation galleries located in flanking podium structures. These galleries connect passengers to the existing baggage claim area, the plaza, and landscaped areas to the north. The podium structures house a conference centre and hotel support spaces to the east and office space to the west. These areas will receive natural light from the station’s translucent ceiling as well as from the glazed north and south facades. Above the station at the main arrivals level is a plaza that can be programmed for a variety of spaces, providing dramatic views of the Rocky Mountains. The hotel, which is designed by Gensler, sits to the south end of the terminal and above the new train station.

Calatrava’s South Terminal Program aspires to integrate a hotel, canopy, plaza, station and current terminal in manner that respects and completes the existing terminal architecture whilst providing enhanced connectivity, functionality and revenue potential for the Denver International Airport. As currently planned, the project will be accomplished in two phases. The first phase, which includes the train station, hotel, rail bridge and plaza is estimated to cost $650m. The second phase, which is estimated to cost an additional $250m, will include a new parking structure and renovations to the Jeppesen Terminal Great Hall. The project will be primarily financed by General Airport Revenue Bonds and is expected to open to passengers in 2016.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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United States
Urban design

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