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With a design that evokes the world-famous surf of Californian beaches, the Tom Bradley International Terminal heralds a new era in traveller comfort

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As the transit point for 8 million-plus people every year, the new international terminal at Los Angeles airport had to offer a strong impact – both aesthetically and in terms of a new revenue stream.

Statistics alone evoke the significance and scale of the new Tom Bradley International Terminal. Designed by Curtis Fentress of Fentress Architects, the building is the largest public works project in the history of Los Angeles. It has 111,484m2 of usable floorspace – double the size of the existing international terminal – and its construction involved 15,500 tonnes of steel and kept 9900 workers employed over 6.5 million man-hours.

Curtis Fentress says the terminal presents a new gateway for Los Angeles, and the architecture was inspired by the people and geography of the city.

"Several public forums were held, with the preference emerging for a wave design that evoked LA's famous white-sand beaches. In response, we created the distinctive arching sectional roofline, which also references the parabolic arches of the nearby LAX theme building and control tower."

The progressive building is slated for Silver LEED certification, and sustainability is built into the architecture. Clerestory windows under the roof forms flood the interiors with diffused natural light – another evocation of the area's sunny disposition.

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Also factored into the design was the region's propensity for earthquakes. Every connection on the moment frame was tested off site to beyond breaking point.

The steel structure allowed for a column-free interior, rising to 31m at the central Great Hall. The roof and ceilings are faced in aluminium, for an harmonious look inside and out. These metal ceilings also help bounce light through the interior.

The new terminal has double the capacity of the old one, handling 4000 people an hour through Federal Inspection Services. State-of-the-art gates allow three jet bridges to fill or empty double-decker airbuses speedily and efficiently.

Giant media columns and billboards animate the volume, as do eateries and lounges overlooking the central concourse and Great Hall.

Inasmuch as the Tom Bradley International Terminal greatly increases the volume of passenger movement and capacity, it improves the airport's revenue stream in other ways too. The enormous electronic hoardings alone attract a handsome fiscal return. At the heart of the Great Hall, the Villaraigosa Pavilion houses a wide variety of luxury retail and dining options, and will have an annual international capacity of 8.6 million passengers.

Founding principal of Montalba Architects, David Montalba says the 1300m² pavilion was also inspired by the California coastline. The architects employed the concepts of ‘island' and ‘edge' to organise the pavilion's design as a unified concept.

"On the same axis as the passenger corridor, the ‘edge' is delineated by a continuous soffit, with detailing that evokes tidemarks on a sandy beach."

Montalba also created the facade for the vast duty-free shopping area, which suggests a series of jewel boxes framed by bronzed stainless steel. Another major revenue source, these shops offer beauty, luxury, fashion, and liquor brands.

First published date: 27 May 2014

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Credit List

Project Tom Bradley Terminal, Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles
Architect and interior design Curtis W Fentress FAIA, RIBA, Fentress Architects, Denver, CO
Civil engineer Hatch Mott MacDonald
Mechanical and electrical engineer TTG
Quantity surveyor Psomas
Construction company Walsh Austin
Landscaping Mia Lehrer & Associates Integrated Media System design and implementation MRA International, Sardi Design, Digital Kitchen, Smart Monkeys, Electrosonic inc, and Daktronics
Lighting Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design
Signage Selbert Perkins Design
Escalator services Syska Hennessy Design Villaraigosa
Pavilion and duty-free shops Montalba Architects, project architect Ben McDonald
Concessions contractor PCL Construction Services
Structural engineer John A Martin and Associates
Mechanical plumbing, building management and vertical transportation Syska Hennessy Group Star Alliance and One World Lounges Gensler