Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport Creates a Destination Inside Terminal 3

The first of a three-part phased modernization of Terminal 3 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport today opened its doors to the public.   

“We orchestrated the design team to create an unforgettable experience for passengers and visitors alike – an experience that only Arizona could offer,” said Steve Rao, AIA, LEED AP, president of DWL Architects + Planners, Inc., the project’s prime architect. The design-build team is comprised of DWL Architects + Planners, SmithGroupJJR and Corgan, along with contractor joint-venture HuntAustin.  


Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Terminal 3 modernization

With the modernization project, Arizona’s main transportation hub, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, will become the crown jewel among the Sonoran landscape. Unlike many airports, Phoenix Sky Harbor is uniquely located in the bustling City of Phoenix. It serves more than 40 million passengers every year, and has become a destination for travelers across the world. In November 2016, Phoenix Sky Harbor was ranked #1 in the U.S. by travel website based on on-time flights, amenities and more.

Capital Improvement Plan

The City of Phoenix’s Capital Improvement Plan for 2015-2020 was the vision to bring Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and surrounding areas into a unified campus. It determined a half billion-dollar modernization to Terminal 3 was needed to accommodate increased passenger flow while also creating a world-class travel experience.  

Three Component Modernization

The project has three components comprised of renovating the processor building and north concourse, as well as demolishing and building a new south concourse. This, in turn, supports the vision of a multi-modal campus incorporating the PHX Sky Train® and the City’s Light Rail System. The project is being completed in phases to minimize impact to travelers.

The biggest challenge during the initial phase of the modernization program was creating a new and open experience from the original closed-in and internally oriented concrete building. To accommodate the world-class views and provide an open, daylight filled space, the design team manipulated the existing structure by removing large sections of the mezzanine and the pre-cast façade. 

“With the design, we took advantage of the Phoenix location and made connections to the city and surrounding mountains with views that are truly outstanding,” said Mark Roddy, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, design director, SmithGroupJJR. “We took what was a very inwardly focused building and made it externally focused, celebrating the beautiful Sonoran Desert landscape.”

The structure of the Terminal 3 building remains intact, while a striking, new glass façade now fronts. “We kept the structure of the old terminal we designed back in 1978, retaining its ‘good bones,’ said Rao.  

The Journey

The arrival experience on the north curb immerses visitors into the Sonoran desert flora with unique vegetation forms. The glass façade on the west encapsulates a cutting-edge, industry-leading facility. The large overhanging pavilion roof, representative of a porch, and west shading is carefully calibrated to reduce glare and heat gain, while maintaining views of the city and landscape. 

The recomposure atrium provides a unique place for passengers to gather and explore the views of the airfield and the Phoenix Mountains Preserve after passing through security.

The DWL Architects | SmithGroupJJR | Corgan team aimed to revive the romantic feeling of aviation travel and designed a grand gathering space reminiscent of great transportation halls of the past. Located between the north and south concourses, the Great Hall transforms the current passenger hall with higher volumes, views, and natural light, while providing a centralized passenger amenities area. 

A Museum Gallery has also been added to the terminal. In future phases of the project, new shops and restaurants will open, giving travelers a chance to continue their Arizona experience even after passing through the security checkpoint. 

At the fourth and top level, skylights offer clear views of the sky and the combination of the glass angle and the gradient opacity of the glass eliminate glare. The result is a space naturally illuminated and connected to the environment. The ceiling, with its shifting, undulating, illuminated surfaces provides a sense of lift punctuated by a series of skylights.

Materiality Wayfinding

The airport terminal is a bustling public place where people from all over the world move through. Given the need to create a space to accommodate the vast array of diverse commuters, careful consideration was given to the use of materials to help guide an efficient passenger flow. Wood panels, acoustic metal ceiling panels and the use of six shades of terrazzo flooring provide a natural flow with intuitive wayfinding. Atriums at both the departures and arrivals areas provide transparency, so one can see where they are headed whether through the facility or outdoors.

Modernization to Continue

Following the completion of the initial stage will be Phase 2 of the modernization program. Targeted for completion in late 2018/early 2019, it will create a new 15-gate south concourse.  New amenities such as food and retail concessions will be added. Finally, Phase 3, to be completed in 2020, will involve the demolition and construction of a new north concourse focused on terminal passenger flow reconfiguration and concessions enhancement.


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