Over time, Terminal 1’s finer details had been obscured with uncoordinated alterations and clutter. The goal was to remove these distractions and recapture the power of the original design.
Completed in 1956, a stylish new airport terminal with a series of sinuous roofline arches signaled a new era of aviation for St. Louis and the nation.
Designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, its wave-like series of pointed arches and large-window curtain walls would inspire future air terminals. In particular, its influence can be seen in architect Eero Saarinen’s two iconic airports—Washington’s, Dulles International (Chantilly, VA), and JFK International’s TWA terminal (Queens, NY).
Known today as Terminal 1, the facility is the hub of a multi-concourse complex at Lambert St. Louis International Airport (LSIA). Terminal 1’s interior and exterior upgrades constitute part of LSIA’s Airport Experience Program, a $120 million multi-phase plan of terminal enhancements for aircraft operations and the traveling public.
Revitalizing Yamasaki’s avant-garde spirit with energy- and cost-saving materials was the task presented to a design team led by exp US Services, and local engineering firm David Mason Associates. Working from offices in St. Louis and Chicago, exp’s design team of Jef Jakalski, AIA, project principal; Thomas Hoepf, FAIA, principal design architect; and Michelle Baer, AIA, LEED AP, project manager, completed upgrades which breathed new life into Yamasaki’s modernist design.
Their objective was to transform a mid-20th century terminal to meet 21st century demands, creating an environment where aircraft and passenger movements, as well as retail and administrative services, could harmoniously coexist. It goes without saying that heightened security measures in the post-9/11 world were a significant consideration.
Over time, Terminal 1’s finer details had been obscured with uncoordinated alterations and clutter. The goal was to remove these distractions and recapture the power of Yamasaki’s intended design.
The design team was aided by the programmatic versatility found in the original blueprints. Yamasaki, in fact, envisioned a building’s functional changes over time, and rather than raze and reconstruct, the plans provided for additional vaults and windows to accommodate growth. Similarly, Saarinen provided structural flexibility in his plans for Dulles Airport’s main terminal, which was expanded in the 1990s to match the original blueprints.
The architect’s primary focus was interior renovations, and it is here where they revived Yamasaki’s visual themes, thanks in part to new design technologies.
Special attention was given to brightening the terminal’s atrium area, restoring its original luster with new lighting systems and replacing the popcorn-textured ceiling with Sonakrete, a smooth aesthetically pleasing acoustical finish from International Cellulose Corp., Houston. More of a cellulose product than traditional plaster, this brighter coating, along with reconfigured skylights, draws in more natural light, thus reducing energy expended on traditional interior illumination.
Glaze-tinted Plexiglas panels beneath permanent skylight glass and fluorescent lighting were removed. Narrow metal plates running along the skylight’s edges were inserted to hold LED programmable lights. “This lighting is more energy-efficient and more compact,” Jakalski said. “LED’s provide more flexibility with programmable illumination, and disburse light in a more uniform fashion.”
The LEDs also have adaptable color controls based on seasonal or other civic observances, a technology not available several decades ago. This brighter yet softer tone also opens up the original glass panels, ushering in unfiltered light from the outside and creating better visual separation between each vaulted aperture.
Under direction of the St. Louis Airport Authority, Terminal 1’s roof was also replaced. This original patina-colored outer shell, severely damaged in a 2011 tornado, was replaced with a sheath of natural copper. With natural oxidation over a decade or two, and depending on weather, the canopy will eventually turn a dark bronze color before morphing back to the roof’s original ornamental patina green.
Terminal 1’s original windows, with a reflective opaque finish, have been replaced with more energy-efficient translucent panes which cut down on solar glare and heat—its visual clarity and energy efficiency a major asset for the structure’s tarmac-facing façade. The original terrazzo floor was preserved with a new thin film of epoxy resin over the original terrazzo, while additional atrium space was opened up by removing several airline ticket counters with protruding canopies, thus revealing additional floor-to-ceiling vaults and windows and exterior courtyard space.
Since Yamasaki’s time in the 1950s and 60s, digital automation facilitating e-ticket and other online reservation systems has reduced the airlines’ operational footprint, allowing exp’s architects greater flexibility to reconfigure space to meet today’s travel demands while meeting the requirements of a heightened security framework. “Part of our mission was clearing out the clutter that detracted from this terminal’s pristine features,” adds Tom Hoepf. “We want people to feel more connected to the building through restoration of the original ambiance that Yamasaki intended.” This utilization of technology and additional space provides a more efficient flow of general operations within Terminal 1.
Advancements in baggage flow and security screening systems are readily apparent, both having been consolidated on the floor below the main lobby. Coupled with new signage systems, passengers are better able to gauge location and direction within the terminal.
Periodic adjustments with functional requirements led the project to be administered in phases from 2005 to 2015. During this period, airline and airport personnel commitments changed in symbiotic fashion. The American/Trans World (TWA) merger, a new airport director, and changing transportation security requirements altered specific design priorities. Add to that the economic downturn of 2008 to 2010 which required the airport authority to closely monitor and adjust Terminal 1’s renovation budget. “In the end, good communication and teamwork prevailed,” Jakalski said.
The renovation and restoration of Terminal 1 has resulted in numerous design awards, including honors from the St. Louis and Chicago chapters of the American Institute of Architects.
Air travel has changed considerably over the decades, but restorations like that of Terminal 1 preserve a hint of the grand experience travel by air once was.