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Airport Goes for Gold

Rendering of updated Alucobond facade of Terminal 2
Terminal 2 features a dramatically updated façade made of Alucobond, a composite material consisting of two sheets of 0.02 in. aluminum thermally bonded to a polyethylene core. Courtesy of SFO 

The first airport terminal in the United States to achieve LEED gold status is a dramatic makeover of an early building at San Francisco International Airport. 

January 24, 2012— The $383-million renovation project that dramatically updated San Francisco International Airport’s (SFO) historical Central Terminal—now named Terminal 2 (T2)—has achieved a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design LEED gold designation from the U.S. Green Building Council—a first for an airport terminal in the United States.

The terminal, which served as the heart of SFO operations when it opened in 1954, sat stripped of equipment and in disrepair between 2000—when the international gates were moved to a new facility—and 2008. When Virgin America chose SFO as its hub location in 2007, the airport began scrambling for more gates to accommodate the new airline, according to Mark Costanzo, the SFO’s resident engineer on the T2 project. “We were under the gun to get it built,” Costanzo says.

The project was as complicated as the building is complex. The boarding area, which extends out from the building, was demolished down to the concrete deck and the steel beams, widened to allow more space for vendors, and extended 40 ft to accommodate more gates. A fountain installed in the 1970s was removed, replaced by concrete decking reinforced by deep concrete piles.

The main building is 5 stories high, with a large single-story lobby in the front. A new airport control tower was added to the back of the building in the late 1970s. Although the former public spaces on the lower levels were vacant, the third, fourth, and fifth levels contained vital airport office space. Renovating and seismically retrofitting a bustling office building that also houses the control tower of an international airport was as challenging as it sounds, Costanzo says. 

Terminal 2 features natural lighting and local artwork 

The renovated Terminal 2 features natural lighting and local
artwork selected to reflect the character of San Francisco.
Courtesy of SFO

“The biggest challenge of the whole project was to keep all those offices in operation and keep the tower fully in operation during the project,” Costanzo says. Identifying the utilities and ensuring that neither the prime contractor nor any of the subcontractors damaged or interfered with those utilities required a significant effort, he says. “We had to build enclosures around some of them just to make sure we were protected.”

The SFO even hired a consultant to work with the tenants in the building and provide weekly updates about the project and what the next week would bring in terms of noise, vibration, and dust. “We had a standing rule: If it gets too bad and you can’t handle it, call us and we’ll stop the operation until a later time,” Costanzo says. “And we had to do that numerous times. We had to work off hours, sometimes in the evening, just to make it work with our tenants.”

And it’s no wonder: To seismically retrofit the building, workers installed 90 concrete micropiles, 120 ft deep and 8 in. diameter. “Getting the rig in and installing the piles was quite a challenge,” Costanzo says. “They [brought in] the lightest micropile machine they had, drove it into the building, and we cut holes in the floor and went through the building that way.”
Workers removed the front façade, replacing it with a glazed and metal curtain wall featuring Alucobond, a composite material consisting of two sheets of 0.02 in. aluminum thermally bonded to a polyethylene core. The material, produced by Swiss-based A3 Composites, dramatically updates the appearance of the facade, Costanzo says. 

Remodeled Terminal 2 in 1983 

Terminal 2, then known as Central Terminal, was remodeled in
1983 to house the international gates at San Francisco
International Airport. Courtesy of SFO

The exterior appearance was also streamlined by the replacement of all of the mechanical systems, Costanzo says. “The old mechanical systems used ductwork that ran on the exterior of the building,” he explains. “We ran them inside the … building and we built enclosed mechanical rooms where the HVAC [heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning] units are. We changed our mechanical [system] to fan wall units, which have numerous fans instead of one or two big fans, and we also changed the filtration system. Instead of regular charcoal filters, we use ultraviolet light in conjunction with titanium mesh screens to filter the air. That’s a new element and that’s part of the LEED gold.”

The toilets and urinals in the building are piped to use reclaimed water that will be supplied by the wastewater treatment plant at the north end of the airport, following an upgrade to that facility. The airport estimates that the upgrades save 2.9 gigawatt hours per year of energy at the 640,000 sq ft facility.

Although the renovation was extensive, it’s not the only one the SFO has planned. The airport is already building a new control tower, and future plans call for the removal of the existing control tower as well as the terminal’s fourth, fifth, and sixth floors. Meanwhile, the SFO expects 3.2 million enplaned passengers to pass through T2 this year.



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