It’s Not a UFO: Steel Dome Structure Tops Out New Charleston International Airport Expansion

Charleston International Airport Expansion by Fentress Architects

Charleston, South Carolina (July 10, 2014) – Charleston International Airport (CHS) celebrates as the tallest piece of structural steel is erected as part of the renovation and expansion of the airport’s “Terminal Redevelopment and Improvement Program” (TRIP). The TRIP program completely renovates and expands the 28-year-old terminal.

‘Topping out’ refers to the placing of the final piece of structural steel at the highest point on a building. The last piece of structure steel in this case was a 32 ft. in diameter 20,000 lbs. steel dome structure. The milestone was celebrated by attaching a small evergreen tree, a South Carolina flag, and an American flag to the dome. The tree can impart various symbolic meanings, such as the project achieving maximum height with a successful safety record and good luck for the building's occupants.

The new terminal is part of a master plan to expand the building’s capacity to accommodate a dramatic increase in passenger traffic; the work includes an entire renovation of all existing areas and building systems that have exceeded their useful life. The design team has planned and programmed the building to have a balance of capacity in all of the different processing areas (ticketing, security, gates, bag claim, and car rental areas). The airport set a new passenger record last year accommodating nearly 2.9 million passengers. The expansion and reconfiguration / renovation will increase the passenger capacity to accommodate 4 million passengers annually.

Charleston International Airport Expansion by Fentress Architects

The current economic impact of the aviation complex is estimated around $6.7 billion and creates nearly 34,000 jobs.  The Air Force’s joint base in Charleston also plays an integral role in economic activity with roughly 31% of the airport complexes jobs created. Boeing has invested well over a $1 billion in land, facilities, infrastructure, and tooling in Carolina since 2009; and has made commitments for a billion dollars more in the years to come. Southwest and JetBlue also have recently expanded flight operations to Charleston.

The new terminal project designed by Fentress Architects in association with Watson Tate Savory Liollio adds 5 new gates to the current 10. With the new design, people will have a visual connection from the curbside to the ticketing and bag claim. Passengers will enter a 25-foot-tall central hall with floor-to-ceiling glass curtainwall and new energy- efficient vestibules. This will provide a view from the main entry through to the airfield, welcoming visitors and creating a connection to the tarmac and the airplanes. The new terminal building will include a central hall lined with retail and a new two-story glass wall facing the airfield. Clearstories will illuminate the terminal with natural light. Concourses A and B are undergoing a complete renovation, which includes new seating areas, restrooms, and retail shopping. Also included is a new consolidated security checkpoint, new baggage handling equipment, and a new central energy plant. Before leaving the airport visitors will also find a new rental car facility.

The new terminal was inspired by the unique cultural geography of the area. “In Charleston, southern hospitality lives side-by-side with a rich urbanism,” says Fentress Architects design principal Curtis Fentress, FAIA, RIBA.  “We wanted to design an airport that was polished and modern, yet captured that unique southern sense of openness and warmth.” Fentress, who grew up in rural North Carolina, drew heavily upon his own experiences during the design process. The $162 million make over is expected to be completed in the fall of 2015. When finished the modernized terminal and concourses will reduce wait times and crowding; while at the same time, enhancing the passenger experience and increasing economic activity.

Fentress Architects is known for the design of the Denver International Airport, our nation’s fifth busiest airport with (53 million passengers annually).  Since then, the firm has designed many other aviation projects, including South Korea’s Incheon International, which was recently named World’s Best Airport by SKYTRAX, and the modernized Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX which has 66 million passengers annually.  Fentress has also designed several acclaimed regional airports, including Raleigh-Durham International Airport (9 million passengers annually) and the new Terminal B at Sacramento International Airport (4.5 million passengers annually).

Estimated Completion: 2015
Size: 373,690 SF
Estimated Cost: $162M
Architect: Fentress Architects in association with Watson Tate Savory Liollio