Airport aims to soften curbside look with canopies

A designer working on Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s domestic terminal modernization says the dramatic canopies that will go up over curbside areas are intended to create a “beautifully illuminated public space.”

Ripley Rasmus of design and architecture firm HOK in an interview gave some insights into the thinking behind the domestic terminal makeover, including the canopies that will be one of the most visible results.

Rasmus is lead designer and the principal-in-charge with the Hartsfield-Jackson + Partnership, a joint venture that has been working on the design of a $200 million portion of the terminal modernization since last May. The project is part of Hartsfield-Jackson’s $6 billion 20-year master plan, as recently reported in the AJC.

The 864-foot canopies will be made of steel frames that support two-layer sheets of transparent rubber, inflated like “bubbles.” They are covered with silvery dots that partially shield the sun while still showing the sky, according to Rasmus.

The material is ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, a durable synthetic substance that will shelter travelers from rain and the elements, he said.

The curbside area will aim to evoke “being in a more natural setting,” Rasmus said. “The present front of the terminal is very hard, it’s all concrete and pavers,” he said, while the new design is aimed at “connecting to Georgia and the landscape, the plant materials and green nature of Atlanta.”

The canopy will also be illuminated at night, so “you can see the canopy glowing as kind of an icon, seen not only from the air but from the roadways… as kind of a big sign announcing your arrival or departure from the airport,” Rasmus said.

The airport also envisions using different colored lighting inside the canopies for certain occasions.

Upper-level pedestrian walkways underneath the canopy will allow people parking in the airport garages to cross over to the terminal without dodging cars. The walkways will be designed with ramps down to the existing garage, and in the future will connect with larger reconstructed parking garages that will have eight levels instead of the current four levels.

“This is all about safety,” reducing the need for pedestrians to cross the busy roads, Rasmus said. Travelers will instead use the pedestrian walkway to cross over to the terminal, then go downstairs for departures.

Construction of the canopies is expected to start in mid-2016 with foundation work, involving large trusses and columns that will be installed in the curbside areas. That could close off certain parts of the roadway to pedestrians in phases, Rasmus said. Auto traffic will continue to flow through.

Inside, the domestic terminal atrium will also be “re-imagined” by the firm, with a mix of aesthetic and practical improvements. The latter include power outlets in seating areas and bar-height tables with power outlets around the perimeter, Rasmus said.

The atrium will also serve as “kind of a metaphorical Atlanta park,” Rasmus said. “We will have greenery in that space… to soften it up and to represent once again the character of Atlanta as a green city.”